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$2.00 a day. Living On Almost Nothing In America

Chey Koopman



Book Review

$2.00 A Day. Living On Almost Nothing In America

“Out of every one hundred americans, fewer than two get aid from today's cash welfare program”(7).

$2.00 A Day Living On Almost Nothing In America was written by Kathryn J Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. The book is not set up in small chapters but in this 177 pages there are only 5 chapters. The first half of this book outlines the struggles of 4 families living off of $2.00 a day. “The average monthly cost of living in the United States for a single adult with two children is $4,820”(

Chapter one is titled “Welfare is dead”. I believe this is a very appropriate title due to the information that is in it. This chapter introduces you to two out of four families that are in the first half. The first family we are introduced to is Susan Brown. She lives with her husband Devin, her 8 month old daughter Lauren, her grandma, her step grandfather and her uncle. That is about as deep as chapter one goes into Susan’s story. The second family is Modanna Harris and her 15 year old child Brianna.  They are on the north side homeless shelter in Chicago for several months. Modanna explained that getting government help is a long and most times not rewarding process. When asked by the authors of the books why she doesn’t apply for all the government help, and she answered “I’ve been through this before, and I’ve been turned down”(2). The best job Modanna could find was a cashier at stars music. It paid nine dollars an hour, and she worked there for eight years. She found a nice studio apartment for her daughter and herself. The two scraped by on a combination of Modonna's paycheck, a small amount of SNAP which is the supplemental nutrition assistance program, and whatever child support her ex husband could provide. Modanna arrived at the DHS office at 8:00 o’clock in the morning to wait in a line that reached around the block in the pouring rain. When she finally got into the building she was approached by a worker and she said “that people who didn’t arrive by 7:30 have to come back tomorrow”(7). Modanna is now convinced that applying for government help is a waste of time. Even though Modanna worked for stars music for eight years, one day 10 dollars was missing from the drawer and she was blamed, and told to not come back. The money was found when she left, but she was not apologized to or offered her job back. When Modanna lost her job, what she could claim went from $5,700 to $4,400.

Also this chapter outlines what people did in the past for welfare, and what people have done recently for welfare. In 1964 Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. He stated in his State of the Union address “many americans live on the outskirts of hope--some because of poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both”(12). Johnson started going on “poverty tours”. He went all over the United States going to poverty stricken cities. Johnson created many welfare programs. Including making the “Food Stamp Program” permanent, the “increased federal funds for schools breakfasts and lunches, making them free to children from poor families”(13). He also expanded Social Security, Head start was started. He also started Medicare and Medicaid. “Americans were suspicious of welfare because they feared that it sapped the able bodied of their desire to raise themselves up by their own bootstraps”(15). In 1988 when Ronald Reagan was president 10.6 million people were recipients of welfare, four years later in 1992 13.8 million people were receiving welfare.

Chapter two “Perilous Work”. Perilous means full of danger or risk. In this chapter we are introduced to the third family. Jennifer Hernandez and her two children.  She escaped poverty in two years, had gotten a job as a house cleaner for the city of the Chicago. She was paid $8.75 and hour. Her paychecks after taxes were $645.00. A two bedroom apartment in Chicago is $960.00 a month. Before Jen got her job her and her children lived in three homeless shelters, did not receive welfare, had no cash income and she relied greatly on SNAP. Susan Brown was talked about more in this chapter. Susan Brown was a high school senior when she got pregnant. Major complications with her pregnancy had her going to the doctors a lot, so she dropped out of school. She ended up giving birth to a stillborn at eight months. She went and got her GED after her stillborn, and also started to go to college for early childhood education. Within a year of her starting her college career, she became pregnant again. She again had to have a ton of doctors appointments, which led to her dropping out of school for the second time. Now a year and a half later Susan, Devin and her daughter are living with three other people who don’t have a job, and are barely making it on a day to day basis. Devin gets a job towards the end of this chapter. The grocery store pays 8.50 an hour and guarantees 30 hours a week. Lastly we are introduced to Rae McCormick. She also is a single mother living with her “aunt and uncle” who aren’t blood. They are Rae’s father's friends. Her father died when she was 11 of a brain aneurysm. She worked nine hour shifts at walmart. In the first six months she worked there she got cashier of the month two times. Rae too got fired from her long time job when she got into her uncle's truck to go to work; after she gave them $50 dollars for gas. The truck had no gas in it and the aunt and uncle did not have money to give her for gas. Rae called her manager and told her what was happening and asking if someone could give her a lift, her boss told her “if you can’t find a way to get to work on time, she shouldn’t bother coming in again”(60). Rae got out of the truck, went into her aunt and uncle's house and said “I love you guys, but fuck you”(60). She took her daughter Azaria and went on to live with many different friends and family members, and started her journey of finding another job and making their lives better.

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  • 2.00 A Day Living On Almost Nothing In America
    “Housing instability is a hallmark of life among the $2.00 a day poor. Children experiencing a $2.00-a-day poverty are far more likely to move over the course of a year then other kids- even than children living in less extreme poverty” (73).
    The authors of this book Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer did a excellent job writing this book. Including an array of different people, with many different backgrounds but still similar situations. They also do a great job of telling people information and statistics about different welfare programs people can participate in.
    Chapter three is titles “A Room of One's Own”. The title really suits this chapter to the T. The reason being “A Room of One’s Own”, the main idea in the chapter is talking about how each family went home from home, or shelter to shelter, and having “a room of their own”.
    Jennifer Hernandez and her children Kaitlin and Cole are the first family mentioned in the second half of the book. Jennifer and her kids stayed with her Aunt Isabella in her well kept house and nice neighborhood. They stayed in the back half of the house that was made into a “apartment”. It had one bedroom, a living room and a kitchen; it was more than enough for Jennifer. Even when she didn’t have enough money to make herself look nice, she always made sure her kids were well dressed, and well fed. In the house where the apartment was lived three more people. Isabella, her daughter Andrea and Andrea’s boyfriend Carlos. Andrea and Carlos had a tendency to fight all the time, it didn’t help that Carlos was a perpetual drinker. They would often throw things, or hit each other. The fighting gave Kaitlyn anxiety and Cole started having nightmares. Jennifer wanted to get a house of their own, but working at Catalina Spa & Salon a higher end spa didn’t earn her enough money to do so. Andrea got into a major car accident, so the spa asker her to work double for two weeks to cover Andrea’s position until they can get another hired. Two weeks turned into four, and four turned into six. Jennifer was soon putting in 75-90 hours every two weeks, taking away a lot of time from her kids. She asked her manager to hire someone else to help her cover some of the hours. They basically told her it’s cheaper to pay her than hire someone else, and gave her a ultimatum. Either work the hours alone or start looking for a new job. She knew looking for another job would be to difficult and would also take a lot of time. She decided to look for more family to live with. She found her Aunt in Texas that had a few spare bedrooms to rent out. She packed up and moved her kids from Chicago to Texas on a 3 day bus trip.
    Although better than Chicago, Texas was bad too. At her aunt's house lived Jennifer and her two kids, and 3 of her cousins that were probation, and into drugs. She also couldn’t find a stable job, because she didn’t have a car. Her aunt started to get mad at Jen because she “wasn’t trying hard enough” to find a job. So moving again is how she went about it, this time it was just down the street to her uncle Jose’s house. It didn’t last long though because Jen walked in on Jose molesting Kaitlyn. She grabbed Kaitlyn and Cole and locked all three of them into her room. They spent hours locked in that room, when Jennifer decided that they were going to the Salvation Army they practically ran out the door. When they got to the Salvation Army they told Jen that usually they only help one person at a time, but from the situation they made an exception and made one of their offices into a bedroom, so they would have a door to close and lock. Like anyone would Jen expected her family to support her and her daughter, instead her family in Texas blamed her for ruining the family. The only family that did support her was Isabella in Chicago, who sadly had rented out the apartment in the back of the house.
    “In Chicago, as well as in virtually every other jurisdiction in the country, child welfare officials deem it inappropriate for a brother and sister to sleep in the same bedroom once they reach a certain age. At some point, if the authorities were to find out that Kaitlyn and Cole were sharing a room, Jennifer would be at risk of losing custody due to “neglect” By today’s standards of child wellbeing, Jennifer can’t move into a studio apartment to help balance the family budget”(pg 74).
    Chapter three also included Rae McCormick. When her dad died her family basically abandoned her at 11. As a 5th grader she had to get herself up for school, feed herself, do her homework by herself, and most importantly live by herself. The landlord was a friend of her father's, and helped her live in the apartment rent free. Her mom occasionally would send her 300 dollars or so, from her dad's pension. She was 5 foot 2 living in a neighborhood overrun by gangs. She once called the cops because a guy was crouching on her porch roof right outside her window, they never came. This is why she decided to get a pitbull named sweetie, so she didn’t have to be alone. An Aunt found out about her living alone They contacted Rae’s older sister who moved away when her dad died to move back, so her and the boyfriend moved back and immediately moved into a apartment with no heat or running water. That winter she went to the hospital two times with pneumonia. The sister ditched Rae and left her for alone for almost a year. Rae’s mom finally signed custody over to one of her friends in Cleveland who offered to take care of her. When she turned 18 and the checks stopped coming, that “friend” kicked Rae out alone, on the streets once again. When she turned twenty-one she got pregnant with a guy named Donny, who didn’t have a stable job. The broke up on plenty occasions due to him abusing her. Rae has her share of mental illnesses, she has toxic stress, she's been raped, she takes medications for her high blood pressure. That being said she could get tons of help but she won’t apply.
    Chapter four is titled “By any Means Necessary”. I do believe this title suits this chapter excellent again. Reason being the chapter is about how families will try to get money, or shelter by trying everything, or “by any means necessary”. I really like how Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer made the titles really truly tell you what the chapter is going to be about.
    A Lot of two dollar a dayers often times donate plasma, you can donate two times a week for about $30.00 dollars each time. Jessica and Travis are a new family that is introduced for a short amount of the book. When Travis was 17 he saw Jessica’s picture on facebook, messaged her and convinced her to go out with him. Four months later Jessica was pregnant with Blythe. Blythe is a little two year old child now who basically lives in her pink stroller. When Travis found out Jessica was pregnant he went and entered a program to get his GED, he succeed but got a job at Mcdonalds, where he very soon got laid off. So to earn some money for the family Jessica a lttle 115 pound women goes and donates plasma to basically support the family.
    Modanna and Brianna are up next. They finally got the shot to live in a “good shelter” where they actually had their own room and doors to shut and lock. The staff was surprisingly really nice and trustworthy. Brianna a nice teenager despite her upbringing. She didn’t drink, do drugs, steal or anything. She kept her grades up and really didn’t mess around. Living in the shelter she developed a crush on a older gentleman. At the dining hall one night where all the teens were eating, the older gentleman asked a girl his age “So when you gonna give me some more of that hoo-ha”(103). Everybody at the table knew she had a crush on him, so they began looking at Brianna, who soon lashed out. She started screaming, swearing and throwing things at the boy. The shelter asked everyone involved to leave the shelter. They were once again back on the street. After a few weeks they were kicked out of another shelter. Modanna had a “friend” who pays for their phone bill, and storage shed. That “friend” let the two girls move in with him. A few days before christmas Modanna said he was looking at Brianna in the wrong way. She confronted him, he reacted by throwing their stuff out of a second story window and shoving them out the door. It took them one week to find shelter at the salvation army.
    Chapter 5, “A world Apart”. Although I do not think the title correlates with the chapter as well as the other ones did, it still makes a little since. The chapter talks about living in the Mississippi Delta, where they have a lot of government built houses. Which seems like a world apart from chicago where people have to live in shelters, or sofa surf.
    In this chapter Martha Johnson is introduced. Martha lives in the Mississippi Delta in a government built house with her 2 daughters and grandson. She only has stable housing due to section 8, thanks to that she only pays $150.00 dollars for rent. The delta is very much a black and white segregated town. Their health care is the worst in the nation, no plasma clinics, few stores and no private charities. Martha has a lot of health concerns but has been denied a few too many times. She owns a little store that many sells frozen popsicles and potato chips, and could earn anywhere from 100 dollars a month to 500 dollars a month. Her granddaughter Tabitha an 8th grader, wanted to go on the school's trip to D.C. With her family not being able to afford to pay for the trip she decided to go door to door in the white community, of course she was shot down at every single house. She lost hope in the white folk. That was until her teacher offered to pay for the trip. Martha was so delighted someone offered to help the black community like that.
    In America we have more of a negative few towards the poor, homeless people. I think this may be because we have the mentality “you want something work for it”, “go get a job, it can’t be that hard”. People also think in the sense that “if people would get off their ass and make their own money, they wouldn’t have to take mine”. Because as we all know a portion of our paychecks go to welfare, and what not. We can change that by not discouraging people who are poor or homeless, but giving them the benefit of the doubt and create a few more jobs that they could work. It’d be a win, win for everyone. People who are in poverty and do not receive help think of themselves as worthless, they give up. They can’t find a job, can’t get any help, they basically think of themselves as trash. If more people got more help the people would be more encouraged to go get jobs. They would feel so much better about themselves. Most homeless people have very bad teeth, if programs would help with dental work they would have more self esteem and would go to job interviews and be very confident.
    Reading this book, I learned to not judge people strictly that they are homeless, or really poor. We need to start loving everyone and helping out EVERYONE! We need to come together as a nation, and donate food, and clothes and other things like that. So that all these people do not have to suffer. We need to stop being split by people who have homes or people who do not. Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer did an absolute great job writing this book, and I think a lot of people could benefit from reading this book.
  • Why does our contemporary American culture have such a negative view of the poor, and how might we change that?
  • Why might living in poverty change the perspective of the world for these people? How might people perceive the world if they got more help from programs?
  • How would living on the "poverty programs" affect the way a person sees themselves?
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