$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I lived this nightmare, as have my children. For anyone who is interested in poverty in American families, this book takes you there. Being so poor can strip you of your dignity. Applying for benefits is one of my worst memories. I can picture the buildings perfectly, inside and out. I can remember standing with my children, in the dark, cold winter for hours before the office opens just to be certain that I would get one of the very few slots open each morning for seeing caseworkers. I can remember when I started working and I was told that I needed to come in the office to see a caseworker. I remember thinking, how am I suppose to keep my job and do everything this office requires just to keep medical benefits and food stamps for my children. Trying to get off of welfare was no easier than trying to get on it. The hoops they made you jump through were a full time job in themselves. Everything mentioned in this book, that recipients have experienced, I can tell you is no exaggeration. Welfare is a soul sucking experience. I am saddened to read it is still that way. With welfare reform you would hope it changed, improved. Instead, I think for a number of families, it has worsened. Welfare has, and continues, to fail the people it should be helping. This isn’t to say that everything has not worked. There have been improvements in some states. It is my opinion, though, that a great many people fall between the cracks. As this book only looks at families, it doesn’t provide a complete picture. It doesn’t show how it fails or succeeds with single adults or with older adults. I would be interested to learn how those segments of the population are faring. With the lockdown this past year, I saw my state in action. The children were taken care of, food wise, some to the extent that parents were complaining they received so much food for their children that they felt badly throwing it away. In contrast, the elderly who received benefits from the lower end of social security, receive $19 a month for food. This was just in my state. As every state is allowed to make its own plan for using those block grants, the picture may be different in another state. The rents here are high, much higher than many can afford. We have a huge problem with homelessness. We have children who couch surf. One of the sad things is, we have very good housing units. There are many working to help out families, adults and the elderly who live in these units. There are incentives for families to be employed. Education opportunities are provided for grade schoolers all the way to the elders in these housing units. Unfortunately there are not enough units for everyone who needs them. With the lockdown, those who were living a paycheck or two from poverty, fell into poverty. Reading this book and comparing it to more recent years, I am now very curious about where we are in this fight against poverty. I have a feeling that many, many family, adults and elderly are falling between the cracks, even as things are being tried to help them.
What I would have liked to have been included that wasn’t, is hearing from the families in the book on their ideas of what they feel would help them. What ideas they may have on changes in services that they feel would help them climb out of the hell of poverty. There isn’t a lot said about how to change, or ways to get to change. I did like the idea of giving families the option to save some of the EITC for emergency use in the future. One of the struggles with moving into a steady and good paying job, is saving money for emergency use. When your employment is unsteady and your wages so low that you are living day to day, you don’t have the opportunity to learn how saving for emergencies can work. It’s hard to see how to make that happen when you are using every cent just to get through the day. I was hoping to see some creative ideas, or really any ideas, on working towards change. Still, I would say this is a good book in that it provides a picture that not everyone sees. It is a book I would recommend to those who are interested in where we are with addressing poverty in America.
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