Living on $2 a Day in America

Safety Net Preventing Poverty But Faces Limits

Living on $2 a Day in AmericaThis fall, Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer launched a new book, $2 a Day.

Federally funded safety net programs play a key role in ending and reducing poverty in the United States.

However, as a New York Times review writes,

“There are various strategies that the $2-a-day poor use to survive — from taking advantage of public libraries, food pantries and homeless shelters to collecting aluminum cans and donating plasma for cash.”

“SNAP (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – commonly known as the Food Stamp program) constitutes the only real safety net program available to the truly destitute — but it cannot be used to pay the rent. ‘While SNAP may stave off some hardship,’ the authors write, ‘it doesn’t help families exit the trap of extreme destitution like cash might.’”

Federally funded safety net programs play a key role in ending and reducing poverty in the United States. To help you better understand how government programs that comprise the safety net are working, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities have gathered a collection of charts.

These charts show:

  • How today’s safety net keeps tens of millions of Americans out of poverty, and
  • That the safety net cuts poverty in half and has positive longer-term impacts on children, helping them to do better in school and earn more as adults.

“All of the $2-a-day families highlighted by Edin and Shaefer have had to double up with kin and friends at various times because their earnings were insufficient to maintain their own home. Some had to endure verbal, physical and sexual abuse in these dwellings, and the ensuing trauma sometimes precipitated a family’s fall into severe poverty.”

The safety net is limited, as many households continue to face hardships, such as paying for basic necessities like rent, utilities, and food. The federal Housing Choice Voucher program allows families to afford their own homes and prevents homelessness.

“The rise of such absolute poverty since the passage of welfare reform belies all the categorical talk about opportunity and the American dream.”

It is critical that Congress raises the budget caps and restore voucher funding lost due to sequestration.

The number of Housing Choice Vouchers has shrunk in recent years even as more families need assistance. Some 85,000 fewer families were using vouchers in December 2014 than two years earlier due to sequestration. Funding that Congress provided in 2014 and 2015 has allowed state and local housing agencies to restore some of the lost vouchers, and the President’s 2016 budget would restore the rest. It includes funding for 67,000 additional vouchers, 30,000 of which would be targeted to homeless families and other vulnerable groups. Congress should fund these vouchers as part of a final spending bill for 2016.

Click here for the website of $2 a Day.

Click here for the New York Times review of $2 a Day.

Click here for the CBPP safety net charts.