November 5, 2017

Review: $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a sad and depressing book, because it drives home how much the United States, as a country that is supposedly the richest on Earth, has failed millions of our fellow citizens. This book chronicles how, after the ill-advised ending of "welfare as we know it" in the 1990's, a different kind of poverty began to raise its head--households receiving SNAP (food stamps) but no cash at all. From the introduction:

America's cash welfare program--the main government program that caught people when they fell--was not merely replaced with the 1996 welfare reform; it was very nearly destroyed. In its place arose a different kind of safety net, one that provides a powerful hand up to some--the working poor--but offers much less to others, those who can't manage to find or keep a job. This book is about what happens when a government safety net that is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It's this toxic alchemy, we argue,that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America.

This book follows several families that fall into this spiral, in four different communities. (It's no coincidence that almost all of them are people of color.) In the process, it lays waste to the idiotic idea that poor people should just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps"--there usually aren't any boots, let alone straps. Time and time again, we're shown a perfect storm of interlocking factors, many of which are out of the person's control, that end up casting them down into this extreme poverty. These people are trying to cope as best they can, in sometimes illegal ways, but frankly who can blame them? If I had absolutely no money coming in and no job prospects, I might end up selling my kid's Social Security number too.

This is a sobering look at one of America's deepest moral failings. It should make you angry. It certainly did me.

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