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$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  5,603 ratings  ·  821 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

“A remarkable book that could very well change the way we think about poverty in the United States.” — New York Times Book Review

“Powerful . . . Presents a deeply moving human face that brings the stunning numbers to life. It is an explosive book . . . The stories will make you angry and break your heart.” — American Prospect 

Jessica Compton’s f/>“Powerful/>“A
Paperback, 174 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Mariner Books (first published September 1st 2015)
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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
Jessica Leight
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
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 read lately, ...more
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 mino
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Leo Walsh
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Texas surroun ...more
Sep 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Linda Hart
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.
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
After researching American poverty for over two decades, Kathryn Edin began to notice that vast numbers of households were living with almost no income. Edin and Shaefer discovered nearly 1.5 million households surviving on just $2.00 per person, per day, which put them well below the federal poverty line. Their new book collects some of these stories—pulled from vastly different areas of the country—in an effort to show what life is like and explain how we, as a nation, can work to fix the syst ...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 h
Joy Matteson
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
May 01, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 s
John Kaufmann
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
Dec 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 re
Karen Ashmore
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gwen by: Mother Jones, 8.27.2015
Long in personal stories, deep understanding of history, but shallow in policy ideas

An excellent overview of the topic, building on work popularized by Barbara Ehrenreich and continually reported by Alternet and Mother Jones, Edin and Schaefer's work is an important and infuriating read on the conditions faced by a growing portion of American society. Knowing that you can find exceptions to the rules everywhere, this book should be required reading for anyone who says those earning far less than average are
Kent Winward
Sep 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book outlines and humanizes the face of poverty in America. In my years of representing the poorest members of our society in bankruptcy court, the depictions I found were strikingly similar -- hard-working, but socially disadvantaged people are faced with a real struggle trying to survive in America.

Although the author didn't mention it in the book, the call to action mirrored at least four of FDR's proposed rights in his Second Bill of Rights:
"The right to a useful and remunerative job i
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
One of the studies covers a woman who has to apply to jobs on an Iphone but jobs cannot call her for an interview because she does not have any minutes. 1) I do not accept the premise that you live on less than $2 a day if you have an Iphone (that phone is worth two years of total expenses), 2) decisions like getting an Iphone without minutes or a job have contributed to her situation, 3) a flip phone and some minutes would be appreciably cheaper (and actually useful) and 4) public libraries hav ...more
The authors present their research via personal stories that are depressing while expressing bits of hope for the extremely poor in the USA. After telling the stories, including those who act illegally in a desperate search for cash (for things like kids' clothing, bus pass to get to work), there are some recommendations at the end. "The primary reason to strive relentlessly for approaches that line up with what most Americans believe is moral and fair is that government programs that are out of ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was pretty good. I had recently watched a documentary on poverty so I thought this might give me even more of a perspective. When I was reading this book I could compare a lot of the people’s stories to things that I see in my area. The parts I found most interesting was the history and the changes in the welfare that brought us to where we are now.

I’ve always thought these changes were a good thing and welfare recipients should work. I also compared the situatio
I can't say I actually enjoyed reading this, since it's telling an incredibly unpleasant story. Yet another example of politicians doing a half-assed "reform" (in this case, virtually ending cash benefits in the late 90s) without any regard for, or willingness to deal with, the unintended consequences of their reforms. Yes, saying the people should have to work for their benefits is all well and good, and difficult to argue with in the abstract...but what happens when there's virtually no work, ...more
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be required reading. It provides a direct, clear, and engaging overview of how welfare reform in the 1990s informed the $2/day poverty of 1.5 million families in the US today. To illustrate the challenges and stigma these families battle, the authors do deep dives into families struggling with $2/day poverty. The book closes with some sound suggestions about moving forward in a way that provides needy families a real safety net when they need it while opening up opportunities for the ...more
Another eye-opening book on the poverty situation in America. Mainly infuriating, occasionally hopeless, often inspiring - what the people who are living at this level of poverty have to do to just survive. The uphill battles. And the ridiculous systemic, built-in penalties that being poor has in modern North American society. How can we not solve this?

Reminded me a bit of "The Unwinding" by George Packer. "$2.00 a day" had a lot more social science & stats interwoven in the narr
Heart-rending and eye opening book. I haven't read a book on poverty in the United States this well written and informative since I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America in the 90's. Actually to be honest, this was actually a lot more DEEPER, more investigative researched, scholarly imformative, and made the reader personally care more than Ehrenreich's book.

Source: Amazon Prime Reading loan.
Feisty Harriet
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ooouff, this is a punch to the gut. Edin describes the poorest of the poor, those who survive on SNAP benefit cards and often times zero other cash income. The stories are heart-rending, families struggling in every way they can to try and eat, to find a place to sleep, to find a job that they can depend on (stable hours, predictable schedules, and where $10/hour would be a FORTUNE and healthcare or paid sick time benefits are unheard of). The comments from Stupid Jason Chaffetz this week regard ...more
Eye opening book. I had no idea that so many right here in our backyards, are trying to exist on $2.00 a day. Every person who has ever said that everyone on welfare is just too lazy to work, should read this book. Yes, there are those few who take advantage of the system, but the research in this book is conclusive that most people who are poor would like to work and be self-sufficient. I found the book to be informative and heartbreaking as I learned about real families in extreme poverty.
sssnoo reads
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-read
Reading this book and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City back to back has been edifying and humbling. Before pontificating on the causes for and solutions to poverty one should learn the facts. I knew somewhat about welfare reform - I was an adult in the 90’s when it was happening after all. BUT, I really did not know what these policy changes meant. Two quotes from this book help summarize this complicated subject. First is Danial Patrick Moynihan’s prediction of the long term consequ ...more
A thought-provoking portrayal of a population too often hidden (by choice or circumstance) and unquestionably overlooked by those who should be taking action. Convicting both of ourselves and of our society.

I'm not certain how this will be received by our discussion groups, but I'm proud they will be taking it on. Perhaps not as overtly readable as first believed, the slim size, short sections, and deft pacing will help. What I anticipate making the biggest impact is the humanity given to those
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After doing research for over two decades on American poverty, Kathryn Edin discovered something she hadn't seen before - households surviving on virtually no cash income. And not only that, the number doing so has skyrocketed in the last few years. Teaming up with Luke Shaefer, an expert on surveys of the incomes of the poor, they uncovered just how these $2-a-day families are managing to survive. They focus on a few families in different cities and in different circumstances, but all of whom w ...more
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Not one to read as a pick-me-up, but this is an illuminating view of extreme poverty in a very rich country. The way that the authors weave real life stories around discussions of policy and politics makes it unusually compelling. I wish every non-fiction book was as readable and human as this one.
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Kathryn J. Edin is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.
“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
“How is it that a solid work ethic is not an adequate defense against extreme poverty?” 3 likes
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