$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America - H. Luke Shaefer, Kathryn J. Edin

"...throughout history, American poverty has generally been hidden far from most Americans' view."

I stayed up through 8AM in the morning reading this yesterday, then crashed the rest of the day. It definitely hit a nerve. Reminds me of the stories my parents used to tell us about their childhoods: Mother grew up exactly in that situation, although under the old welfare laws (discussed in the book) that were more favorable to her family's situation (I think?), Father grew up in an actual third world country.

 

-- "This program offered cash to those who could prove their economic need and demanded little in return. It had no time limits and no mandate that recipients get a job or prove that they were unable to work... Perhaps the real question is not why welfare died, but why a program at such odds with American values had lasted as long as it did." I know of more people who abused the system than used it honestly, and given that my age puts me at the very end of this program's existence, that's quite an example of why public perception is so negative of anything termed "welfare."

 

-- "Murray's logic was simple: Pay women to stay single and have babies, and more of them will do so. Pay them not to work, and you have a double disaster on your hands."

 

-- "Whatever can be said about the characteristics of the people who work low-wage jobs, it is also true that the jobs themselves too often set workers up for failure." Hah, on-call shifts for example? In theory, an excellent business idea. In practice, horrible for the employees.

 

-- "[David] Ellwood's conclusion - that welfare must be replaced, not just reformed - was based on a crucial insight: any program so out of sync with American values was doomed to fail. He made the case that four values were especially important: the "autonomy of the individual," the "virtue of work," the "primacy of the family," and the "desire for and sense of community." The old welfare system was portrayed, if unfairly, as supporting the opposite - indolence and single parenthood. Because of this, Ellwood argued, virtually everyone disliked the program. Many hated it, even many of its claimants."

 

-- "Too often, America has gone down the road of trying to shame those in need." One could say that shaming is actually a very American trait. See: rape on college campus, male victims of rape, public shaming via social media, financial debt, school bullying, work harassment, etc. and so on.

 

Tagging this survival because when you're that poor, especially with a family, things get real creative to keep going. One of the families featured towards the end was a dead ringer for a lot of my mom's stories from her youth. I should ask her more about it...