$2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

$2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no income if she didn’t donate plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna, in Chicago, have gone for days with nothing to eat other than spoiled milk.

After two decades of groundbreaking research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen before — households surviving on virtually no cash income. Edin, whose deep examination of her subjects’ lives has “turned sociology upside down” (Mother Jones), teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on surveys of the incomes of the poor. The two made a surprising discovery: the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to one and a half million American households, including about three million children.

But the fuller story remained to be told. Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? What do they do to survive? In search of answers, Edin and Shaefer traveled across the country to speak with families living in this extreme poverty. Through the book’s many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. Not just a powerful exposé, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality.

What did you think of this book? Tell us!


I'd like to see this book as the selection for the 2017 Washtenaw Reads. It could help frame and spur conversations related to issues of economic and social inequities that our community (and the nation) is confronting, and could highlight work that's happening here. (One example: http://www.opportunitywashtenaw.org/) In the aftermath of this year's presidential campaign, discussions linked to this book/topic could serve as an important step forward in understanding and addressing the root causes of poverty in our community and country.

One of the co-authors, Luke Shaefer, is a University of Michigan professor who's involved in a major new UM initiative focused on poverty-related issues. He was the guest speaker at the United Way of Washtenaw County's recent campaign kickoff lunch.

I very much recommend selecting this book. It reveals to us the extreme poverty of our neighbors, in Michigan and throughout the country, and I'd really like to have our community as a whole share its vision.

This book is a compelling read about welfare reform and it's effect on American families. The case studies of the families are told in a manner that draws in the reader and makes the book easy to read. As a bonus, it is co-authored by Ann Arbor's own, Luke Shaefer. I'd love to hear the discussions $2 a Day will create in our community.