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$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  6,358 ratings  ·  879 reviews
A revelatory account of poverty in America so deep that we, as a country, don’t think it exists

Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no cash income unless she donated plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna in Chicago often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends.

After two decades of brilliant
Hardcover, 210 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is an excellent book about deep poverty in modern America. It covers a lot of big issues – employment, housing, public benefits – but also makes them personal, through the well-told stories of eight families struggling and often failing to make ends meet.

In the U.S., we tend to think that our version of poverty is cushy by global standards; respected news outlets mention people living on $2 a day or less in India and say, “We can’t imagine that here.” Unfortunately, all too many people don'
Jessica Leight
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
I'm not as enthusiastic as other readers of this book, though I do agree that it addresses an extremely important topic. I think the authors tailored the book for readers who are almost total newcomers to the question of policy and social policy in America. That may have been a wise choice, but if you are not such a newcomer, it may seem a bit boring, and perhaps somewhat superficial. The summary of policy history is very general, and likewise the policy proposals in the final chapter. What seem ...more
Book Riot Community
I read Nickel and Dimed and Hand to Mouth few months ago, and this book is a continuation of that theme. It’s not a firsthand account poverty, but rather it is a sociological survey of poverty in America. The accounts in this book were eye-opening and depressing. After reading Nickel and Dimed, which was published fifteen years ago, I had wondered if the issues of poverty and low-wage employment had improved or if things were still just as bad. This book, published in 2015, provides a more recen ...more
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This slight book packs a powerful punch. The authors focus on desperately poor Americans who live on almost nothing - - just SNAP benefits (food stamps) and virtually no cash. No safety net. Edin and Shaefer tell the stories of individuals and families who are resourceful, determined and optimistic - who want to work but for a variety of reasons cannot find or keep a job. This is an excellent book - a great book to read along with Evicted and Nickel and Dimed. Unlike some non-fiction books I've ...more
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This highly readable book is riveting and shocking. The authors, both professors of sociology, profile real families (changing only their names) to illustrate extreme poverty in the USA. After welfare reform in 1996, cash payments pretty much stopped, or became very temporary. Income help , instead, was given in the form of tax credits for the working poor. SNAP, or what used to called "food stamps", is what remains, which means many poor must function with no cash. No cash for transportation, r ...more
Linda Hart
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is not a book about how to live on $2.00/day, but about who is living on that amount or less. The cases cited are tragic and memorable, and at best it is disheartening to read about the poorest of the poor, but in reality the book simply exposes how little government assistance is being received and proposes it should be more. The policy recommendations are thin and are incredibly outdated. This is almost laughably out of step with current trends in policy discussion.
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

In October 2014, ACOSS released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line. Of those, 603,000 or 17.7%, are children.

And as politicians whine about the increasing costs of the welfare system (from the suite of their tax payer funded five star hotel room) and the media whips middle class society into a frenzy by highlighting the worst examples of the minority who abu
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting and horrifying. The challenges facing the unimaginably poor families profiled here were just mind boggling. Not just the lack of money, though that is a pretty monumental road block, but, for most, the lack of social supports, decent nutrition, a safe place to sleep, bathe, etc. As the authors point out repeatedly, it's hard for a potential employer to contact you about a job when you don't have an address. Just so many problems. The authors do recognize that in some instances their ...more
Sep 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was shocked and saddened to read the stories of the families living in poverty that the authors write about in this book. Saddened too for all the families that find themselves in similar situations. It made me feel helpless in even being able to help. What can I do as one person to make a difference for a family living in this kind of poverty? I wish this book had focused a little more on that but it did give some ideas, it talked about employers who offer regular schedules vs. on demand work ...more
Leo Walsh
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Like the excellent Evicted by Matthew Desmond, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin is an excellent overview of extreme poverty in America written by an academic sociologist. Both document the struggles and strategies the poorest of the poor employ just to exist. But while Desmond focuses on a single locale, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Edin examines poverty in multiple locations, from post-industrial urban areas like Chicago and Cleveland to rural Tennessee, Mississippi and ...more
Kyle Nicholas
I have two complaints about this book.

First, it focuses primarily on people with children. Having children basically relegates a person to poverty status automatically and deepens poverty for those already in it when they choose to have children. Solution? Don't have kids! Having children is a choice in the modern world. Always.

Secondly, in the book's final list of solutions, it says nothing about how the wealthy are contributing to the problem of poverty in America and how taxing the wealthy co
Joy Matteson
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Extremely important read, especially for those who tend to think of the extreme poor living ONLY outside of America. An eye opening look at those who struggle to survive all around us, with tales of survivors who don't let poverty or abuse define them. The authors also take the time to attempt to carve out real solutions to help the $2/day poor, beyond welfare programs and SNAP. It is easier to let this kind of book go by, and not look the homeless or destitute in the eye. I specifically challen ...more
Brittany (brittanymariereads) E.
I work at a non-profit that works with families living below the poverty level so I really feel like this is an important book. I really enjoyed reading it and it gave me a new appreciation for the work that we do.
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very read-able qualitative study about deep poverty. Edin presents an in-depth look at a few families in a few locations across America (Deep South, Chicago, Cleveland, and Appalachia) and intermingles stats from survey data. It is a very moving book with vivid details about how people live at the extreme margins.

She gives a grim picture of the way that historical welfare reform has left these families out in the cold (quite literally): "At the old welfare program's height in 1994, it
catherine ♡
A really good read with really good anecdotes. I really liked how it touched on the different programs and rights — a living wage, housing, food, etc. etc. etc.
May 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
The problem with $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America is that those who should read it won’t; and those who will read it are already sympathetic to the plight of poor Americans that it documents. I am in the latter group, and having spent enough time studying and working with poor Americans the book offers nothing new.

I do not really remember how this book was recommended to me. The source must have been a good one, since I had given up on books of this nature long ago. For a time i
Nov 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Maybe 3.5. It wasn't as dry as it could have been and much more truthful than how I would have written it!

This book focuses on the people who earn no money at all. Since "welfare is dead" there's few ways of getting cash. Kids can net parents food stamps, but that's not cash. Sure, you can live with relations but they don't have much, and let's face it, some relations are just bad news that you want to stay far away. The old adage, it takes money to make money is really true when you can't get
This book does bring up essentially paramount issues in our country today, especially when we are often labelled as the “Land of Plenty”, yet many in our country go homeless or are hungry.

That being said, I probably wasn’t as enthusiastic about the book as a whole compared to the overall consensus of reviews. The individual cases that are delved into and discussed definitely have a realistic feeling to them, and you feel for those who are struggling day in and day out to try to make ends meet a
Jul 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a grim, mostly anecdotal look at the poorest of the poor in the United States, interspersed with information about how they got that way. (Note: that's not $2.00 a day for food. That's $2.00 per person per day for *everything*, including food and housing.)

It's a fairly depressing read, obviously, albeit not as shocking as the authors expected. (Again, books on poverty appear to be geared to an audience that can't or won't do basic math. If cash welfare is almost impossible to get, and h
Nov 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
All too frequently in America we are given the impression by politicians and/or the media that the poor are poor not out of circumstance, being born into poverty, victims of inner city schools or failed institutions designed to educate, but because they are immoral, lazy, or prefer to live on some type of government assistance. This book goes out of its way to analyze this stereotype and provide a body of evidence and real-world examples that contribute to and exacerbate poverty, how our notion ...more
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Edin and Shaefer have given the extreme poor a voice, finally giving them the opportunity to humanize themselves while reinforcing the validity of their lived experiences with statistical analysis. Intensely readable. More to come.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Multiples tales of people trying to survive on welfare or with low paying jobs. Made me appreciate how much I have and also to try and do more for my community and the less fortunate. There's even a few insightful tips in here for how to make do with less.
I read this for my AP English class, and I honestly didn't know what to expect. I went into this thinking lets just get this over with and all I have to do is remember the major points.

And that is where I went wrong.

This book has so many facts and stories that you wouldn't think still go on today. How is the richest country in the world still have this going on. Honestly, a few pages in I was thinking... What year is this from, the 90's?

That is how bad it was. People today can be so oblivious
Dec 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent and compassionate look at extreme poverty in the US. Most analyses of poverty look at those living below the official poverty line, but Edin and Shaefer take it a step further—they focus on those who are living on $2 or less per day, a number commonly used when talking about poverty in the developing world.

Lots of issues at play here. Privilege and class, of course; also race, disability, opportunity, upbringing, trauma. Without the book being heavy-handed about it, it's really clear h
John Kaufmann
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is about extreme poverty in the United States. It is about the after-effects of the repeal of welfare in 1995-96 - or at least the negative effects (the Earned Income Tax Credit did succeed in improving the lives of some of the working poor). The dark side of welfare repeal, however, is that those below a certain level, or those who have fallen on hard times, enter a downward spiral from which it becomes almost impossible to extricate oneself. While masked for the first few years after ...more
Karen Ashmore
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
A surprisingly large number of Americans struggle on $2 a day. Yes, in Haiti and the Congo but also the good ole USA whether they live in the inner city or the Mississippi Delta. Many try to find work but due to some of the affects of poverty like no transportation, bad teeth or lack of decent child care, many find even an entry level job elusive. The author wraps up the book with recommendations, one of which is a decent living wage of $10-15/hour. Because 1) all deserve to work 2) parents shou ...more
May 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you thought $1 -2 dollar a day was for third world countries, this book will jolt you into reality. Granted, our poverty (U.S) stats have graced some news outfits over the last few years, but not with this detail. I have yet to write my library review, but cannot say enough about this book. It takes you into the heart of peoples' lives living this less than American dream. It will make you think twice the next time news media or politicians spin negative on the poor...the majority really do d ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
In this election season, it's interesting to contemplate the consequences of Clinton's "ending welfare as we know it."
It's a shame for the nation that what is described in the book is happening in America. This is not the "democracy of opportunity" dreamt of by the founding fathers.
Regina Lemoine
3.5 stars. The book is an eye-opening account on an underreported segment of society--those who have virtually no income at all. Most Americans think that "welfare" is supporting a significant segment of the poor in this country, often forgetting that the welfare reforms of the 1990s made qualifying for assisstance nearly impossible for many. This book is sobering in its reporting on people who have slipped through the cracks, including families with small children. The book is heartbreaking and ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an accessible book on poverty in America. It’s infuriating, heartbreaking, and depressing by turns—and it’s something I wish every person tasked with creating public policy would read.
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Kathryn J. Edin is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

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It’s time to turn your attention to something dark and twisty, to a story (or two or three) so engaging, the pages just fly by. In short, it’s...
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“In no state today does a full-time job paying minimum wage allow a family to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.” 4 likes
“Susan’s and Jennifer’s job searches are likely made harder by the color of their skin. In the early 2000s, researchers in Chicago and Boston mailed out fake résumés to hundreds of employers, varying only the names of the applicants, but choosing names that would be seen as identifiably black or white. Strikingly, “Emily” and “Brendan” were 50 percent more likely to get called for an interview than “Lakisha” and “Jamal.” A few years later, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin conducted a similar study in Milwaukee, but with a unique twist. She recruited two black and two white actors (college students, posing as high school graduates) who were as similar as possible in every way. She sent these “job applicants” out in pairs, with virtually identical fake résumés, to apply for entry-level jobs. Her twist was to instruct one of the white and one of the black applicants to tell employers that they had a felony conviction and had just been released from prison the month before. Even the researcher was surprised by what she found: the white applicant with a felony conviction was more likely to get a positive response from a prospective employer than the black applicant with no criminal record. When the study was replicated in New York City a few years later, she and her colleagues saw similar results for Latino applicants relative to whites.” 3 likes
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