Reader’s Forum on $2.00 a Day continues

ALICE RYDEL

I’m moved by Kathryn Edin’s book and all the comments it inspired. Here’s mine:

Our political system represents the wealthiest of the wealthy. We’re never honestly told, “Here are the leftover crumbs. Fight among yourselves.” Rather, we’re lied to with “Here are the jewels. The best and most worthy among you may achieve them.”

I grew up on the South side of Chicago in the 50s. The first Black family that moved into my neighborhood had their house firebombed. During my teen years in the 60s we 20171204_134452moved to the Roseland neighborhood Edin wrote about. The Pullman factory was closed, people living right across from that isolated factory were referred to as lesser-than — as hillbillies. When football games took place at Gately Stadium with Black schools, fights always broke out.

Thinking that one part of humanity was more worthy than another – fighting over crumbs — was just a part of life.

In the 70s, I met an activist fighting against social injustices. She was on my college campus, had pen and sign-up sheet in hand, and I signed up. This new life activity changed my world view from nothing can be done to we’re the ones who have to bring about change.

As others have commented about “$2 a Day”, it’s going to take a lot of us to make that change. Tiani Xochitl Coleman’s comment touched me: “…we need a change of heart, a deepening of our cultural values to help solve the problems of poverty.”

 This isn’t just a psychological change. It’s lots of work – team work as the college students referred to – to change our political system. No one should be forced to live on crumbs.

Alice Rydel is a thirty year builder of the All Stars Project and a life long independent.  

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Reader ‘s Forum–from Nevada to the Bronx to Florida

We wrap up our Reader’s Forum this afternoon with four submissions. One from Catana Barnes, the President of Independent Voters of Nevada, two from college students at  Bronx Community College and a note from an independent activist in Florida.

I hope that you will join us this evening at 7 pm EST for our conversation with co-author of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin.

TONIGHT @ 7 pm EST

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin, co-author of

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

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CATANA BARNES

Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaffer’s $2.00 A Day Living on Almost Nothing in America is one of the most personally relatable books I have ever read. As I read through chapters 1 and 2, I felt as though I was reading through a diary of my own life. Chapter 2, Perilous

catana barnes speakingWork, affected me so much it was suggested that I not finish reading the book. I will, of course, finish reading the book with great anticipation and, unfortunately, with great sadness. This is a book that can be of comfort and support to those, like myself, who have had to survive on little to nothing and a book that can provide great insight to those who have never had to deal with this kind of struggle. I absolutely believe this book can and will change the way people, in the United State and the /world, understand and view poverty in the United States; a country that proclaims its economic prowess.
Catana Barnes is the founder and President of Independent Voters of Nevada.

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CLAUDIA ARROYO

My name is Claudia Arroyo. I am a Full Time Student from Bronx Community College and I am majoring in Psychology. I learned about your work from my Psychology professor Rafael Mendez. I am submitting my thoughts and questions about the writing $2 A Day on Extreme Poverty in America and will be attending the conference call on Sunday at 7PM.

Upon Reading $2 A Day it is interesting to know how close to home many aspects of this book touch upon. Either we have experienced many of these events ourselves or we know somebody who has lived through it or is going through it currently. There claudia arroyois so much struggle and trauma that the individuals mentioned in the story and those who encounter these challenges face everyday and must continue to live with it because it has shaped who they are. What stood out a lot to me was the story of Jennifer and her children. When living with family members it still wasn’t a positive or safe environment for her children. Little did she know the impact that this had for them, especially her son who suddenly became very aggressive and violent to the point where he harmed his sister. Even then his sister also suffered being molested by one of her own family members which forced Jennifer to flee with her kids to somewhere else she could call “home”, although it is difficult to consider a place home, when it isn’t yours and there is no stable settlement. With this we see difficulties of finding places to safely call home, especially with ones own family, they are the ones which can hurt you the most or even abandon you in your time of need. But because these events do have an influence to shape who we are, they certainly are not what officially determines the person we can be, as humans we are dynamic and constantly changing and have the ability to adapt and overcome.

My question to you is, yes it is already difficult to live in the U.S, especially in major cities like New York or Los Angeles, but how much more does the difficulty increase of sustainably living here in the U.S as a person of color, someone who is hispanic/latinx, or even outside of the U.S?

Thank you.

Sincerely, Claudia Arroyo

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MADELINE MANZUETA

    My name is Madeline Manzueta and I am a student at Bronx Community College and here is my comment on the story.
    Poverty is something that is overlooked in this country. Congress doesn’t really care about the poor and their struggles. We see this in chapter 3, as Jennifer talks about her not being able to afford such a place like the one in which her aunt was letting her stay. I can relate to Jennifer because it is very expensive to live. In the Bronx a one bedroom apartment is now going for 1,400 which is impossible for someone with a minimum wage job to afford. They now have programs offering rent controlled housing for what they call “those with low income.” In order to qualify for these apartments you must at least have an income of about 16,000. The average poor person barely even has an income of 5,000 so how do they expect for us to be able to afford these places?

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ASHLEY BRUNO

I just started the last chapter of this book and I am only now starting to see the organized

Ashley Bruno

outlook and commentary on what needs to be done to cure the “disease” of poverty, in addition to accepting the sad symptoms. With 20 pages left, I remember when I was only 20 pages in, still then naive to the wrenching reality of modern day poverty in America and how it would be illustrated in this writing. I really believed I would be reading a how-to-guide on living on almost nothing, as if there was an underground network of people administering tips and lifestyle advice on getting it done, against all odds, without criminal and dangerous activity and/or total dependence on an ultimately unalleviating and traumatizing welfare system.  I am glad to have read this book and been given a reminder, yet again, of what the collective mind set and experience is of the people who aren’t making it, where the cycle of poverty is like a chain that seems to be unbroken, as the closest thing to direct slavery, and actually still is in many ways, especially mentally.

The last few years, since I joined this network of direct urban humanitarianism and canvassed low-income housing buildings advocating for open primaries, I have felt the need to understand better the communities that are suffering the most, and why,  eliminating the “us and them” and completely eliminating the pursuit of “success” in a capitalist driven society that aims to keep the rich-rich, and the poor and ethnic in a box to provide for cheap labor, control, and pocketed subsidies, made on people, that should be going to the programs and the people themselves. The money exists! The gap, margin, and total imbalance in our demographic economy is so extreme, the outlook has become bleak! There are so many people caught in this cycle and they keep procreating in the most terrible conditions. This isn’t yesterday’s “third-world” problem, and this is not a television show. This is today and now. These family stories are just a few of the endless situations going on and all the people suffering, fearing being out in the divided world today, yet unsafe at home, or the bare survival of one.

I am truly amazed by those who are courageous enough to get involved and try to take these issues on, for I have made no difference and was starting to feel like I just can’t. I think of the serenity prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I want to focus on that last chapter. I want it to expand. I believe that together we can create the how to guide, because essentially we need to.

This book is definitely not boring, somewhere in between a dramatic yet disturbing lifetime movie and an interview with the real life person behind the door of the NYC Projects buildings the day you stop in and say, “can you sign this petition if you believe in positive change and a fair system?”, wondering how many people live in there and why it smells like that.  I will aim to make the conference call, but I should be working tomorrow. If I change that, I will hear you all on the call. Otherwise you know you will hear from me; I appreciate this listen and learn.

Ashley Bruno is a volunteer with Independent Voting and Open Primaries.

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SAGE SEPULVEDA

What I’ve been thinking ever since I read this chapter is that while a lot of operations are trying to help families in poverty even when it’s rather difficult, there are at least a few operations that make things worse for these families. Poor people may not have hygiene because they weren’t properly taught by their families or that there wasn’t enough IMG_0286water. Families may go into poverty because the housing costs are too much for them to handle. When I read this chapter, it makes me think of a similar problem is happening in all apartments in the Bronx, especially in the South Bronx, because families will lose their apartments because of housing. I think it was an amazing decision for Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer to write how the family, especially Jennifer, will help Kaitlin to cope with the trauma of being sexually molested by Jose, since it shows that even or especially in dark times, some families can still support each other, since not all of them do. It kind of seems like people of poverty are victims of abuse because they’re easy targets. Why are poor people more likely to be subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse than people who aren’t in poverty?

Sage Sepulveda is a college student at Bronx Community College.

 

 

Conference call tonight and Tiani Coleman in the Reader’s Forum

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Learning How to Help the $2/Day Poor

In the book $2.00 A Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, we peer into the lives of those left out of the 1996 Welfare Reform.  While the Clinton / Gingrich welfare reform offered a helpful hand up to some – the working poor; it put those who can’t manage to find or keep a job into a hopeless predicament of not being able to dig out . . . and more and more Americans are joining this group of people who live in deep poverty, a hidden poverty that goes unseen by most Americans.

Many think that those who can’t manage to find or keep a job are at fault, but we don’t take into account what makes finding or keeping a job nearly impossible: the horrendous, difficult circumstances they face at home; the costs associated with acquiring skills and an education; the deprived working conditions they’re subjected to; the bad luck that hits them, such as sickness, broken vehicles, child-care problems, etc.

Though in many respects, I’m far removed from the lives of the $2/day poor, I have seen some of these struggles up close in the lives of a few family members: one who became a single mother of five children with virtually no child support from her ex-husband and no college degree; and one who, at a young age, became a widow with no college degree and eight children.  Both have had phases of struggling to find or keep a job.  Similar to what’s described in the book, each has faced mounting family medical bills, or has had to board with family or friends, be very resourceful at scrimping, or has even had to resort to some borderline tactics in finding money for food, the next utility payment or other life necessities.

There was a “break-through” with one when it finally became clear to us, her loved ones, that there was no way she could support herself; she didn’t have the credentials / skills to find a decent job to cover her expenses and had a high amount of debt and was facing some mental health challenges.  Rather than demanding she get a job before lending a hand, we finally realized that she needed to be substantially helped in order to get back out on her own.  One family member agreed to pay her student loans each month; one family member paid her utility bills each month; one family member paid her car payment; one family member helped with a limited amount of “spending money cash” each month, and she was resourceful in finding a family member to board with, and she utilized SNAP for food.  This allowed her to focus on acquiring skills in a good-fit profession, and she has now acquired certification and a job.

But I’m sad that it took years before we realized this.  Family members would help her out here and there when she would urgently beg for help; but otherwise, she was left in her desperation to try to make life workable in her incredibly difficult situation, with us all baffled as to why she couldn’t stay employed and be more self-sufficient.

The book makes clear that the $2/day poor don’t see “a handout” as a solution; they simply hope for the chance to work, to find a full-time job paying $12 – $13 an hour, a modest dwelling in a safe neighborhood, and some stability.  As a society, we really need to focus on how we can create more decent paying jobs.

As the book explains, the 1996 welfare reform pushed millions of low-income single moms into the workforce, but it did nothing to improve the conditions of low-wage jobs, and arguably worsened the quality of the average low-wage job in America.  For example, many employers utilize work loading and on-call shifts, where employees get few hours and unpredictable schedules, but are on-call 24/7 without full compensation for such.  How can someone find child care in these circumstances, or earn a living wage?  Workers also face “wage-theft,” with violations of labor standards, where they get less than the minimum wage, do not collect overtime pay, and are required to work off the clock.  Housing prices have also skyrocketed such that there is nowhere in America where a family supported by a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value without being heavily cost burdened.

Though I have watched some family members struggle greatly, they have at least had supportive family to help; they belong to caring church communities, and they were raised in a loving, nurturing middle class family environment.  Their children have risen above the circumstances of their parents.  So many of the $2/day poor are raised in hellish home/community conditions, and have very little family or community support; the cycle of abject poverty is repeated from generation to generation.

There are no easy answers.  Edin and Shaefer discuss the feasibility of raising the minimum wage, if not to $15/hour, then to at least $10/hour; they support government-subsidized private sector job creation, as well as creating more government-sector jobs.  They mention expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC), recognizing that this is a more dignified way of helping people than the shame-filled TANF.  The book also advocates for improving labor conditions and changing negative incentives such as TANF block grants that subsidize the states more than the working poor.

I believe some policy changes will likely help; for example, tax deductions for big mortgages that subsidize the rich could instead expand the EITC; laws could be passed to prohibit uncompensated on-call labor; benefits could be more flexible so that beneficiaries have access to cash to meet their individual needs, etc.  Some policy changes need to be carefully approached so that drastic increases to the minimum wage don’t just result in high inflation, or major housing subsidies don’t result in higher rents, defeating their purpose.  Jobs created need to be sustainable.   If we’re helping people improve their skill sets and life circumstances to rise above what’s holding them back, we’re making good investments.

Ultimately, though, we need a change of heart, a deepening of our cultural values to help solve the problems of poverty.  The Teach for America teacher who helped Tabitha Hicks was a genuine example of what needs to happen throughout our society if we want to truly help the poor.  Good people need to be willing to provide service, whether it be a highly qualified individual giving up a lucrative consulting job to teach and go the extra mile in the rural, poor south; or people making an effort to give long-term sustained help to family members; or people volunteering as tutors, caring for the elderly, etc.  It will require employers (such as the owner of Market Basket) to voluntarily raise their minimum wage or labor standards, which ultimately “forces” employers such as Walmart to make some of the same changes.  We need to integrate and interact with one another so that we see the humanity and recognize that with just a few differences in life circumstances, it could be us.

With the ever-broadening automation of jobs, it’s even more crucial that we quit worrying about partisanship and ideological purity (that contradicts itself in practice), and start working together to expand the economic pie, reduce the selfish greed that drives exploitation, and find ways to help everyone around us find hope in reaching the simple American dream of having a job, a home and providing for their families.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

TONIGHT @ 7 pm EST

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 

 

Bronx Community College Students in the Reader’s Forum

 

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This is our second set of commentary from students at Bronx Community College.  Dr. Rafeal Mendez invited students in his psychology courses to read Chapters 2 and 3 of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America and to write a post for our blog.

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Marie Dorleans is taking the Psychology of Infancy and Childhood.

According to chapter 3 it is stating that it is hard to afford an apartment with low minimum wage. Earning low minimum wage makes it difficult to take care of your family because you are responsible for feeding and clothing your children and making sure that they have a roof over their heads. In chapter three Jennifer did not have enough money to buy an apartment with two bedrooms, so her children and herself were living in the same bedroom. Jennifer had a job at “Catalina Spa & Salon”. Jennifer and Andrea, her coworker, both did their part of the job very well, but then Andrea got into an accident she could not work and so Jennifer took her shift to make extra money. That was a heavy load for her, plus her manager didn’t give her a raise for the extra work so she left that job.  It was hard for her to even tell us what happen to her daughter or what happens when she is not spending time with her children. The living condition was so bad that she would move place to place to find a better home or to find a better life. With rent being raised everywhere people with low minimum wages cannot afford a home to live in. Chapter 3 stated that during 2000-2012 rent rose up to 6 percent and if a tenant missed a rent bill they would receive a “soft eviction”. That is when the landlord would remove the door of the tenant’s apartment or cut off the power. This proves that living in poverty could change a person life for the worst.

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Darin Florence is studying Abnormal Psychology.

Through this workshop, the illumination of the depth of poverty, to the tune of producing what we now call “The $2.00 a Day Poor,” currently growing in its divisiveness from a “thriving class of people.” This of course being measured in broadest of framework by Darin Florencewhich a thriving class of people can be quantified, the psychology of poverty can know no bounds, nor can its dehumanizing capabilities. The ability of a class of people who have no skin in the game to criminalize the victim is frightening in that the drastic and often dangerous tactics which the $2.00 a day families must adopt as a way of life is sure to foster other actions which are in fact criminal in the traumatic effects on their children as well themselves.

The temerity of those experiencing financial proficiency to blame the poor for being poor and creating barriers to distributing the wealth of resources so that the supply meets the need, and allows resources elevate the level of the needy. This is a despicable display of gross negligence and apathy on the part of what is reportedly the Richest and most powerful nation in ever in existence.

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 Raziyah Rodriguez 

As a Single Mother of two girls , a college student and a welfare receipent I am please to IMG_0842know this issue is being addressed. It is extremely alarming in the midst of trying to be heard and helped the struggle still remains. What has become of our economy ? What are the limits we must face to finally see the grass is always greener.  I enjoyed the talk on her book and the process of the research that was conducted to realize society is being oppressed. I am deeply fond and admire the work and time put into this project. It is sad to know as poor as we may think we are , their is always another family who has it worse. What I mean as worse is less and much more worries as problems arise in top of problems in situations of poverty.  May we all hope for change , and may we all put in work to make the change . With team work , great minds and clean hearts , America shall prosper. Amen

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Cesarina Tapia

My opinion,  2-a-Day poverty book impacted me in different ways. For example, how can a powerful and resourceful country have such high number of poverty and nothing is being done to lower the poverty epidemic. Why is the government not doing anything to stop poverty. I think the community needs to be aware and to be educated about whats happening in our society and come up with a solution to fix the problem.

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Sabrina Mendoza

As I read Chapter 3 of the book $2 a Day it gave a different perspective of what it’s like to be poor in America. The American media tends to make poverty appear as a choice rather than something that is passed down due to certain circumstance that families may face in the country. When in reality the American system is what hinders certain individuals from prospering and achieving the “American Dream”. In order for everyone in this country to be able to get a fair chance in achieving the “American Dream” the system must change. Those Americans who are apart of the 1% or apart of the middle class should empathize with poor and be apart of the solution not against them.

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Fatoumata Millogo is taking Introduction to Psychology.

When I read this book’s chapter, It seems like the author is telling my story instead of telling Jennifer’s family labor experiences in Chicago southwest side. This book should draw the Government attention to the application of minimum wage and the increase of poverty in United States Why the Government instead of giving SNAP to families with low income doesn’t increase the minimum wage and send police officer in work sites to check if owners are applying it? It seems stupid for me to help low income families just with food instead of helping them to be dependant.

I used to work an African braiding shop where the owner paid me $200 a week and I worked from 8am to 10pm Monday to Friday. I didn’t get pay for sick days, I didn’t have vacations. I worked just to pay my bills. I quit the job and decided to stay home with my son instead of working and not getting the money I was expected to get.

The department of labor services should control all the services, small business etc to see if they are paying right their employees in order to decrease the number of unemployed. SNAP is one of a way to help but not poor people but it is not the Good way.

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Leslie Espino

My thoughts of the chapter 3 on poverty in the USA $2 a Day is conflicting because on Leslie Epinoone hand these people have the means to rise out of their situations. Although at the same time I feel as if the system intentionally tries to place some of us in situations comparable to Jennifer or Rae. Unjust situations that ultimately force us into uncomfortable positions, which in turn leaves us potentially vulnerable to unspeakable horrors like the tragic events that occurred in Jennifer’s life. Im also concerned about people in Rae’s position or similar to it, who have a good chance of being eligible for government assistance but are too prideful to seize the opportunity.

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Cleritude Dorleans

I found chapter three to be very interesting. I am aware that there are poor people living in all states of the United States, however; I did not know that it was this bad. In chapter three of this book a woman named Jennifer and her children were really going through tough times. She was working trying to provide shelter for her children and herself. Working trying to make ends meet just wasn’t enough for her or her family. She had to IMG_20170427_190258_159move from place to place in different apartments because the rent was too expensive for her to afford. It is hard for low-income families to afford an apartment. According to the text in chapter three the cost of an apartment would be more than 30% of one income, that is why a lot of people are struggling to keep their homes. According to the text if one would miss payments on their rent the landlord would do some repulsive things, so the person can leave the apartment on their own. When people are in situations like this one tends to get stressed out. I can relate to this reading because a few years go my family and I were living in a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for about $800 and change. We were a family of 8 at the time and my dad was the only source of income. We were evicted twice and a year later our apartment was mysteriously on fire (we were not home) so we had to live in a shelter for about three years. During that time, we were really stressed out, we lost most of our belongings. That is why I can relate to this book.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

Juliana Uzozie: “I was deeply touched by your book,after reading the part where Michelle told Juana and Angel that  she has not eaten for four days, and how the family lost their source of income  which made them live in the basement of their family friend, and the land lord discovered he has to throw them out.Honestly no child is suppose to go through that situation because it is traumatizing. That is why we need to be our  brother keeper.

Clara Castillo-Santana:  “In my opinion this chapter made know what is so important for poor people to have help from their friends families or even thought programs like the one doctor fulani’s created a way that wealthy people can communicate with poor kids and people to help all black and Latino to fight against the poorness.”

Kirk Reynolds:

My name is Kirk Reynolds a student from Bronx Community College. Poverty is simply
the state of being extremely poor. Poverty to me is more often than not passed down by
generation. In other words if you grow up in poverty it is a greater chance of the generation staying the same rather than being successful. Statics make it clear that kids always seem to follow what they see. Not saying that if you grow up in poverty it’s impossible to be successful.  That’s when things like identity projects come into place. Identity project is basically inspiration and or something to be passionate about. A well known example of an identity project is sports. However life can be a lot easier if everybody was promised a strong family support. Family is a huge role in children’s lives. I mean family is all kids know until they go out on they own. A key to raising a child is to help them feel confident and to help develop a sense of passion and
purpose. It’s the education that happens before we send them off to school which is crucial in bringing up a child. Without this idea of a strong family support it can very detrimental for kids lives. Which then leads to extreme poverty in the USA. Furthermore without a family support children are more at risk for smoking, drug abuse as adults, as well as engaging in high-risk sexual behavior. Which we all know are not behaviors followed by people with success. For instance in the article it says “the ACE study and more recent follow-up studies offer evidence that the experience of abuse, neglect and other adverse circumstances in childhood is disturbingly common in the American population as a whole. Yet as shocking as these ACE study findings are poor children are greater risk for such an experience (Edin 79).” In my opinion poverty can be stopped but it’s going to take an nation effort. In conclusion poverty is A generational thing, if we can give each and every child a stable successful family. Lots will be more successful to which we all will have the money to have stable apartments and lower the risks of smoking and drug abuse.

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Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

TOMORROW

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Brenda Ratliff

Brenda Headshot

I couldn’t put down Kathy Edin’s compelling discussion of contemporary American poverty, $2 A Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America. I read the book almost nonstop over two evenings, and as I read I became more enraged with each story and description of the current plight of America’s cashless poor.

This is happening in one of the most successful countries in the world.  No one would question this if it happened in India, Africa or Central America. Our well-meaning liberals would express outrage that these countries could not take care of its citizens.  After all, isn’t America the land of endless opportunity? Unfortunately, it seems that endless opportunity comes with a high price for those living without the same means as those who have the wherewithal that comes from access, opportunity and stability to maintain a higher standard of living.

There is also currently, and for the past 20 or more years, no political will to even acknowledge this kind of poverty in our country where current politicians obsess over the middle class, (i.e. votes). Trump was quoted in today’s news as wanting to do 836ad-2-a-daysomething about the rampant corruption in America’s system of entitlements with no proof whatsoever that this is happening.  Kathy Edin’s book asserts repeatedly, that corruption does not exist in any significant way in our system of benefits for the poor.  However, once again, an opportunity to garner favor with a political base rears its ugly head as a campaign tactic for the next election by blaming the most vulnerable in our society.

I grew up poor in New York City in the 60’s and 70’s amidst a tremendous amount of family instability.   But I never felt that there was nothing that could be done.  We survived on the old system, Aid for Dependent Children, after my father, our sole support, sat down one day in a chair and died of undiagnosed heart disease. My mother was left with four children from 7 to 14 years of age at home. She was semi-literate having never completed high school and her chances of employment were close to non-existent.  Besides, what was she going to do with all of us?  She went on welfare and raised us. Even then, it was a Herculean task to try to keep us safe, healthy and on a good path.  However, I never felt that there wasn’t a place to turn to, even if we were treated like second class citizens in whatever office we landed.  With welfare money we paid the bills, paid the rent with assistance from section 8, we had three meals a day, and I thrived in school.  That is what the old-fashioned welfare system managed to accomplish.  We were not cheats.  Circumstances caused my mother, a poor black woman who was ill-equipped for skilled work, to fall on hard times, and to ask for help to make sure her children were safe, housed and fed.

Today’s America, has almost no safety net for the poor. It took very little money to stabilize my family.  We were fortunate to be able to capitalize on the political will of a very different time during a period of social motion that changed everything.  Now the political establishment does not talk about poverty, except to blame poor people for being poor. They, along with large parts of America, believe that if you’re poor, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough. But that American can-do spirit applies to those mired in poverty, as Edin talks about in her book, as much as it applies to the middle class.  The resourcefulness of some of the people described in Edin’s book is remarkable.  To make it though, sometimes people just need a hand up, even if that is also a handout.

If we are ever to address this issue meaningfully, caring Americans must become engaged in the political life of this country. We cannot strip away every entitlement that’s been enacted since the New Deal to deal with poverty.  Edin describes many common-sense solutions in her book. However, these will never become policy unless we hold every person we send to Washington or any local office accountable to our communities.  I would argue that we need to upend the political system altogether.  This is a tougher road.  Most of us just want to live our lives.  However, it is the more humane and ultimately more developmental solution to creating a society that cares for all its citizens.

 Brenda Ratliff is a senior communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience in developing, executing and managing successful communications and marketing strategies in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  She is a longtime political activist and philanthropist working to create afterschool programs for inner city youth.

 

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

SUNDAY

December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

Michelle McCleary–Reader’s Forum on $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

 

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$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing In America

$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing In America:  by authors Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer is a simply written but powerful book.  The authors do a great job of humanizing and detailing the lives of the poorest of the poor, i.e. a segment of our population that Americans either don’t know exist or dismiss and critique.  I must admit that this was one of the hardest P4P submissions that I have ever written. It took more time than usual to finish.  While reading $2 a Day  I needed to take frequent breaks because I found the content so upsetting and infuriating. A few times while speaking to a client at work last week, I started to think about the book.  I am nearly embarrassed to admit that I started to cry!  I am sure that the clients could hear the tears in my voice, but mercifully didn’t say anything.   The authors do a thorough job of detailing the devastating effects and failure of ‘welfare reform.’  I found myself wanting to scream ‘who the eff do you think you are’ at President Bill Clinton and the other politicians who created this thoughtless disaster.  I, of course, already knew about what is referred to as the ‘welfare reform’ act of 1996, but authors Kathryn J. Edin and Luke Shaefer’s words had a profound impact on me.

“We must teach people to love the poor.” – Dr. Lenora Fulani.  I read Fulani’s quote in a Facebook post by Cathy Stewart, founder and creator of the Politics for the People book club.  I wholeheartedly agree with this statement because I believe with all of who I am that the only thing that will truly end poverty is to change our culture which currently blames and humiliates poor people to a culture that shows support and compassion.  I hope that the rest of my blog post contributes to conveying this love.

When my alarm clock rings at 4:15am on work days, I groan and wonder out loud for the 500th time if I am insane for working at a job that requires waking up at this hour.  After I manage to drag myself out of bed, have a shower and drink a strong cup of green tea, I usually start to feel happy.  I am thrilled that I will get to spend another day with my co-workers who are some of the most interesting and lovely people I have ever met.  Working with my colleagues is like living in Harlem, NY: you are never alone.  People smile at each other and say hello just because. One of the many things that I have always loved about Black people is our courage: we face our pain head on.   My primarily Black co-workers are very honest about who they are. Most of them have lived and continue to live in environments and in situations that are daunting. It is not unusual to speak to a co-worker who survived crack and heroin addiction, homelessness, time in prison or long periods of their lives trying to survive on meager government assistance.  About six months ago, I met a co-worker who I will call ‘Joyce.’  During one of our conversations, Joyce shared with me that she was living in a ‘half way house i.e. she was allowed to work while she finished her prison sentence.  I think Joyce thought I would judge her, but I just said “it’s all good, we all make mistakes.”  Joyce flashed me her beautiful, nearly toothless smile.  When I shared with Joyce, that I am a vegan/vegetarian, Joyce promised to try to smuggle some veggie burgers out of the prison cafeteria for me. Ha!! A very pregnant, 21 year old young woman who grew up in foster care and now lives in a shelter has inherited countless ‘mothers’ at work.  I love to see her smile as we heap more love and support on her than she has likely ever received in her life.

In 2009, I graduated from business school with a Master of Business Administration degree (M.B.A). Unfortunately I was greeted by the worst job market in 100 years as America struggled through the Great Recession.  When I finally found employment, I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with ‘vulnerable’ youth i.e. young adults who lived in homeless shelters, foster care placements or who were court involved.  It was tough getting through what I will call ‘our honeymoon period’ with a twist – these young people were tough and mean. After I let them know, nicely of course (ha!) that I couldn’t be bullied by them, they began to show me how loving they could be to me and to each other. When my father died in 2012, my students presented me with hand-written cards to show how sorry they were for my loss.  I even received a hand-made flower! When I started to cry in front of the class, they surrounded me in a huge group hug.   My students were particularly kind to me when I was suffering from horrible pain due to fibroid tumors.  Although I was on painkillers, some break through pain made it nearly impossible to stand or walk around. It was not unusual for a student – usually one of the young men – to push me around the space in a chair that had wheels on it.  These devastated and poor young adults taught this ‘woman of a certain age’ how to text, gently corrected me when I referred to tweets as twits (ha!) and tried hard not to laugh when I took my extremely out of style flip phone (remember those) out of my purse.

In his work with Barack Obama, David Axelrod once wrote that one of his first tasks was to humanize Barack Obama to white America.  Unfortunately race still plays a big role in our culture and black people, even those who are as educated and privileged as a Barack Obama, are rarely seen as human.  I believe that in teaching people to love the poor we must first help to humanize the poor.  In giving our own love for a segment of the population who both need and deserve so much love, we will provide tremendous leadership to America and the world.

Michelle McCleary is a life-long independent and the President of the New York Black MBA Association.

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 

 

Reader’s Forum: Bronx Community College Students react to $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

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Dr. Rafael Mendez is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Psychology at Bronx Community College.  He is on the faculty at the Eastside Institute for Short-term and Group Therapy and is a senior clinician of the Social Therapy Group. He is also a founding and national board member of the All Stars Project, Inc.

Dr. Mendez invited his students to participate in Politics for the People, to read a chapter or two from $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America and to share their thoughts with us here and then join our conference call on Sunday, December 3rd.

In today’s Reader’s Forum, we have comments from 13 students

 

Tiffany Guzman is currently taking Abnormal Psychology at Bronx Community College. She read Chapter Three: A Room of One’s Own

My thoughts on this chapter is that we as a society are not doing enough to help those who are living in poverty. Many people in America cannot afford housing leaving them to to do their best to try to get into a shelter that is usually at full capacity, move in with family members or friends and some might have no choice but to live in the streets. Society has been going through a crisis of housing instability for well over a decade and it does not seem to be getting any better. The causes for this crisis is that the cost of housing is at an all-time high and wages are too low to pay one’s rent. Society has tried to help those who have lost their home but it’s very difficult to get housing assistance due to the wait lists being incredible long for housing and section 8, section 8 is also closed as a result of the high volume of applicants, and there are also not enough units available. The effects of this crisis are abominable it can lead to these vulnerable people to experience physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, also stress, and sickness due to living in uninhabitable condition all because they have no home. I believe that we have to do more and provide more public assistance program to help find all those in need housing because everyone deserves to have a roof over their head. Society should guarantee housing to all its citizens because it helps support their basic need.

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Delmary Ortiz, who is taking “Life Span Development” shared the following post:

My thoughts on the readings made me look deeply into the situations that hit close to home with either friends, family even neighbors going through similar situations. As a parent as Jennifer is to Kaitlin and Cole, her biggest concern was safety which is to most parents. It saddens me to find out that a family member had molested Kaitlin. You would think your kids would be safe around people you call family but it is not always the case. I’m currently taking Human Service to become a social worker soon. I would love to assist families in finding services that can better assist their situations.

I am a NYCHA resident and have been for the past 3 years. You can say after readings these stories that I was lucky only being on the waiting list for 3 years. When I applied for housing, section 8 was currently opened but I was not informed of what that was. We live in a world that is every man for themselves. For this reason, I want to become a social worker to help the community develop a strong stable hub so, that they can be knowledgeable in what is offered for the situations they might be facing. You get discourage to even get help because the people helping you have such a discouraging attitude.

My question to you is how can we move forward, when the systems that are built to help you sustain stability are failing?

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Kauri Moronta is taking the Psychology of Infancy and Childhood.

We see people living in poverty all around the country.  In the book “$2 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing” it states that low-income families are “eating up” far more than they can afford. We need money to eat, for clothing and other necessities.   It says that 30 percent of income is spent on housing which is a “cost burden”.  I can apply this theory to myself and my family.  The rent in my house is about one third of my mother’s income, therefore we need government support.  This is the case in households living in poverty.

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Kristiana Brooks shares,

I thought the stories in this chapter were extremely sad but it was not surprising to me. These type of stories have become the norms in today’s society and culture. It continues to be an ongoing cycle of struggling families trying to make ends meet, bending backwards to try and make it to the top but the system is not made for them to succeed. Sadly, the children in these families have a high percentage of being in the same position as their parents and are vulnerable growing up in abusive situations because of the lifestyle they are forced to live. How can society just be “okay” with knowing that there are families suffering day to day trying to get through? With no food, water, heat and the list goes on and on. Everyone is so focused on trying to make their own life better that we do not even think to wonder how others are doing. We automatically assume “if I can do it, they can do it”. But that is far from the truth. Families like the ones told in the story will most likely never make it out.

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I am Nicole Diaz. I am studying psychology in Bronx Community College. I am student of Rafael Mendez in his class Child Development. I work in Grey Stone Learning Center and I active in my church 7 Seven Day Adventist which I teach bible study to kids.

Nicole read Chapter 2: “Perilous Work” and Chapter 3: “A Room of One’s Own”.

When I read chapter 2 and 3 I was actually amazed because the writer portrays the real life of poor in the United stated in different aspect. She went to details in the economic, emotion and health that those poor women have to handle. In the economic aspect she points out the way that those programs of the government really work and the way that they are affecting the poor development. For example, in chapter 2 there was a part that was talking about stamp. I read something that is so true that if you work and you just gain a little bit of money they reduce your stamps with these make you not want to work harder because if you do, they just take more from you. Being able to read about all these situations that is actually happening makes me feel that there are people like the writer that is seeing what we poor people are going through. It is actually refreshing because it makes you see that you are not crazy. One of the things that the government actually do and the book portrays it so well is that they make you feel that what they are giving to you is the best and if you want more the system does not let you develop in anyways.

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Cindy Alvarez writes,

The title of the book is very catchy and makes you wonder who can live with just $2 dollars a day, but after reading chapter 3 I was informed that people in America live on that amount. Housing instability is unjust and unfair but still seems not to get attention from our government, which is disheartening and sheds light on the greedy 1% of people who are millionaires in America.  This makes me think about how gentrification is affecting New York City right now in 2017, how people of color are getting kicked out of their homes because the raise of rent and landlords doing things purposely to get people out. These people are getting kicked out because they don’t have enough money to pay for their rent and people take advantage of the poor as shown in this book.

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Raysa Polanco is taking “Life Span Development” with Dr. Mendez and submitted the following comment:

This story made me remember some things that happened  from the Decade of 1960 to 1990, a series of events that have profound effects on the indigent families in the United States. In  Kathryn J. Edín  and H. Lucas Shaefer “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.” Critics of the welfare repeatedly argued that the increase of single mothers was mainly due to the increase of the rates of welfare payments through aid to families with dependent children. Despite scientific evidence offers little support for this claim, the indignation of the public against the program, led by the stereotype of “welfare Queen” that Ronald Reagan said in his speech for the nomination for the Presidency in 1976, led to the requests for further modernization of the welfare system. According to the book “$2.00 a day”, the Narrator is describing the different risks that we face people with almost nothing in America. In addition, the author describes the abuses and obstacles that affect their lives. For a long time, I have had to live a difficult situation by being a single mother. Although I am getting help from the welfare program to raise my son and I continue studying, , this really is not enough when you’re living with a high cost of rent. At the same time, I identify with the case of Jennifer Hernández because I am a single mother and I have had many problems such as health, economic and emotional.  Finally, I would like to congratulate the authors of this book for expressing the reality that we live the people of poor here in America.

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Elizabeth Ogunloye is a student in Dr. Mendez’s Abnormal Psychology class.

Some believe that people become poor because they make bad decisions. That can be true, but not all poor people are poor because of their own bad judgment. For example, death could leave behind orphans and widows. Such ones could be affect emotionally which will limit them from performing necessary work, and in turn make them poor. Can people with influence and power change society to eliminate world poverty? Some suggested theories showed that socialism or communism could achieve an international classless society in which wealth was distributed fairly. But this didn’t have much positive effect in preventing poverty. What people fail to realize is that poverty is a result of society’s action to promote and protect self-interest. Another important thing is that, poverty has nothing to do with race. Anyone can be poor.

 

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And from Maria Collado:

The book $2 a Day is very interesting because Edin and Shaefer described the story of so many people who have lived their life based on $2 a Day. I cannot imagine what those people have been through living on $2 a day because it is a extremely low income to satisfy all the basic needs of a family such as clothing, food, hosing. It is as Lenora Fulani says on her speech about poverty who has the same opinion as Edin and Shaefer “ poverty has increased because it has been racialized” based on race or ethnicity and also based on the neighborhood people live in.

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Johnny Whiting:

After listening to the presentation by Kathryn Edin and reading the chapter in the book it just made me realize what I have believed all along. The state of poverty in America is man made it started with the unequal treatment of certain races of people and classes of people every since the beginning of time we have put other humans in categories or statuses. Poverty really hit hard in the inner cities were blacks and Latinos live and I believe this is because of prejudges and discrimination lack of the proper education or tool such as books computers etc.; to teach the children of the inner city on the same level as the more privileged kid in more well off neighborhoods. The reason drugs and crime are so prevalent in the inner cities I believe is that the lack of job which means no money so how do you eat how do you feed your children how do you meet your most basic need . I also believe that the powers that be believe that a permanent working class is needed or a permanent poor class as well that’s why the government aloud drugs into our country and flood the inner cities with them a form of oppression. I also believe that the government systems set into place to so call help us really are meant to keep us down, uneducated and dependent on the government welfare is ok but what about giving jobs and jobs that a person or family can live on. Job training, affordable housing how about livable housing get rid of the slum lords if people have a nice place to live and raise there children they would feel better about themselves.

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My name is Lucero Acevedo Lugo. I am studying at Bronx Community College hopefully graduating with an Associates in Psychology next semester 2018. My course is Psy 40 and my Professor is Rafael Mendez.

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It is incredible how well I was identify with the this amazing book the $2.00 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shafer in chapter 3. The story about Jennifer Hernandez and her children Kaitlin and Cole a story that is a real problem and situation that most of us needs to face. I can be identify with this lady and all the struggles that we face when we talk about trying to find a house or a place to live not that expensive. The housing today it’s very had to obtain it and harder to get an apartment of housing with to rooms. I can conclude that most of our income is going directly to our rent. Rent is too expensive and it takes most of our weekly salary. This chapter really explains the reality that most families struggles with.

***

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Destiny Perez is a student in Introduction to Psychology. She read Chapter 3 and writes:

 

I’ve always had an idea of the hardships low-income families go through. And although I’ve never experienced it to the extent of the families talked about throughout the chapter, I do believe no one should go through that. There are so many government and federal programs that we can’t access because there are too many restrictions. Even when you do qualify for these programs, the help is not guaranteed. Reading that there are thousands of families still on the waiting list to receive help is appalling. The thought that there are thousands of families in the same situations, if not worse than Rae and Jennifer is sickening.

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Astrid Perez writes:

Housing instability is a hallmark of life among $2:00 a Day poor. Children who experience $ 2 a day poverty are far more likely to move over the course of a year than other kids.This affects children severely, not being able to finish a school year and having to start over constantly. The instability is fueled by perilous double ups- that mark and speed the descent of those who are already suffering from the fallout from non sustaining work into the ranks of the desperately poor.
People often turn to family during rough times, especially when earnings have not been sufficient to maintain a place of their own. In some cases when living with relatives, it can end in sexual, physical, or verbal abuse. This trauma often leads to the precipitating factor in a family’s fall into $2 a day poverty.  The most obvious manifestation of the affordable housing crisis is in the rising rents. Rent has raised faster than inflation. People are not making enough money to pay for rent, sustain a home, provide food, the care of their children.

***

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

Steve Hough in the Reader’s Forum

 

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Steve Hough being presented with an Anti-Corruption Award by Stephanie Harris for the NYC Independence Clubs, October 2017

$2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

By: Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

A Review by Steve Hough

When my parents separated in December 1967 (divorce papers followed), my mother moved her four kids to Florida with no marketable skills and no child support. Living with my grandparents was never intended to be a permanent solution, so we soon moved into a tiny two-bedroom home. It was actually a guest house or mother-in-law’s quarters in the back yard of the main residence. It was located across town in one of the poorest sections, just blocks from the paper mill. My grandfather loaned mom his car, so she could get to work and take us to school.

That first summer my mom got a job as a hostess/waitress at a restaurant on the beach. She was able to put two of us kids to work there as well. At fourteen, I was washing dishes by hand in a sweltering kitchen. At thirteen, my sister waited tables during the breakfast shift. Mom also secured a job for my older brother as a deckhand on one of the fishing boats at the marina where the restaurant was located. He was seventeen. Our baby sister was only three, and I do not recall what arrangements were made for her while we worked. We were all lucky to be working, but the jobs disappeared at the end of tourist season.

We went back to school and mom got a job as a waitress, in town, at one of those steak houses where you go through a line to order. The pay was minimal and tips were meager. Although we were living across town from my grandparents, we did not enroll in a new school. This housing arrangement was also temporary, as my mom had been on a waiting list for public housing.

We soon moved into “the projects” close to our schools and my mom’s job. My grandfather took his car back and we all walked to school and work for a short time until my grandfather bought my mom an old rusted-out Ford. It actually had huge rusted-out holes in the body and hood. It ran alright, but was embarrassing to be seen in it. We also began getting surplus commodities from the government. We were on “welfare”.

After working a short time on weekends at a downtown cafeteria, owned by the same man who operated the restaurant the previous summer on the beach, I got a job bussing tables and washing dishes at a Ramada Inn restaurant near my grandparents. I was moving up in the world, because this restaurant had an air conditioned kitchen and an automatic dishwasher. Things were looking up, but now that my mom had a car, she drove me back and forth to work. I hated being seen in that rust bucket, but it was better than walking.

I did not know what a minimum wage was but, apparently, it had increased while working at the Ramada. Seemingly, out of nowhere, my paystub had a deduction for meals, when I had never eaten a meal at the restaurant. When I asked the owner what the deal was, he told me I had better start eating something, because the deduction would continue. I wasn’t happy about it, but felt I had no recourse. I’m sure I told my mom about it, but she probably said the same thing the owner did. At least I started getting a decent meal when working.

The owner knew where I lived. He knew my grandfather, and he had seen my mom drop me off at work. This guy wasn’t going to go broke paying me an extra $0.25 per hour as required by law. While still working for him, a year later, my mother remarried and we moved to Texas. The restaurant owner had the audacity to ask why I couldn’t stay and live with my grandparents. Apparently, I was that good of a worker; just not good enough to pay me minimum wage.

The whole point of this story, and the stories detailed in the book, is that greed will always rear its ugly head on every level, ignoring the struggles and suffering of others. My boss refused to give me a raise when the minimum wage increased. Those buying SNAP benefits for cash take a 40-50% “service fee”. Variable interest rates on everything from credit cards to auto loans hit those with the least money hardest. Credit scores impact insurance rates and job prospects. Banks collect billions of dollars in overdraft fees. It appears to be harder than ever for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when the deck is stacked against them.

Although the greed may not be relatively worse the higher people move up the income scale, the effects are more widely distributed and the impact is felt across society as a whole. The owners of capital (aka the 1%) appear to have no concern for workers beyond how much they can benefit from their labor. When they locate a cheaper source of labor, they move operations and simply forget about those left behind. Unemployment insurance is temporary, and token programs for retraining displaced workers often do not fit the needs of worker profiles in a given area.

The notion of equal opportunity is a myth. It leads many to believe that people in dire financial circumstances find themselves in such situations as the result of personal failings. In some case, that may be true but, in most, it is far from the truth. While the impact of my personal experiences, described above, shades my opinions to this day, if today’s income gaps are not due to individuals’ personal failings or unmitigated greed, what else could it be?

One might say it is merely a result of supply and demand (too many workers; not enough jobs), and I wouldn’t argue that point. However, I would ask if the glut of labor has occurred only by natural causes (increased birth rates). I would argue that it has occurred primarily in response to governmental policies (both directly and indirectly) enacted at the direction of the owners of capital. As such, I believe the government must act to correct deficiencies in economic policies that adversely affect the working class.

Raising the minimum wage is the most obvious first step. Despite the conservative mantra that raising the minimum wage will result in massive job losses (especially among unskilled low wage workers) studies have shown employers respond to a rise in the minimum wages in various ways, and the extra money in workers’ pockets does not stay there long. They spend the extra money which has a ripple effect in both the private and governmental sectors. Workers can afford to buy more products and services in the private sector, and the government pays out less for programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

For those not working, but desiring a job, a solution may be as easily stated as raising the minimum wage, but harder to implement. Everyone wanting a job, should be provided a job. Easier said than done.

While neglect of government-provided infrastructure over a long period will require additional spending, the related jobs are temporary and should not be viewed as a long-term solution. Even expanding full-time government employment is a bad idea long term. We may have already passed the point where the private sector will be able to continue fully funding promised benefits to public employees.

I would first suggest that radical reform of our tax code is required immediately. As part of such reform, I advocate eliminating the corporate income tax entirely. Revenue lost from corporate taxes could be recouped by taxing investment income as ordinary income and adjusting the top rate as necessary.

Secondly, I highly recommend adopting a universal single-payer healthcare system. This is another overhead item that adversely affects American competitiveness in the global marketplace. We will never have any hope of bringing a significant number of jobs back home without these two changes.

Finally, I believe we must overhaul our “welfare” system in such a way that it also addresses the needs of those with less cash than $2 per day per person. In a nutshell, repealing the EITC and other child credits should be part of a tax reform package. These benefits could be replaced with a monthly universal basic income, adjusted for earned income and SNAP benefits.

Obviously, such changes would involve complex coordination of input and effort between multiple agencies and both political parties. Discovering that there may actually be solutions to some of the collective problems we face as a country will require thinking outside existing partisan boxes. At what point will the political parties stop blaming one another and begin collaborating? When we get the big money out of politics? Perhaps.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.

 

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

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Rakeen Dow and Harriet Hoffman–Reader’s Forum on $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

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On Two Dollars a Day is a journey, a dive of a thousand leagues into the abyss of poverty, a candid look at being poor in America.  In addition to giving a graphic illustration of what is to be at the bottom of the barrel of poverty, it shines an intense light on our political system and how it facilitates the opportunities for the powers that be to be able to implement policies that are oppressive and create further damage to the members of society who are most in need of the government’s assistance.

Rakeen Dow is an activist with the All Stars Project’s Committee for Independent Community Action, founded by Dr. Lenora Fulani. Rakeen is a co-founder of Live Poet’s Society NYC performance ensemble.

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When I began reading the introduction to this book my first reaction was Oh, no, I can’t handle another upsetting, depressing read.  My second reaction was one of fury.  Of course I must read it, so I can accumulate even more facts with which to fight against the moral outrage that is America’s treatment of the poor.  When I was a young mother, I couldn’t ever imagine not having food to give to my  children.  As an activist, I joined the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and we made some gains.  Later I worked in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society antipoverty programs, where the gains were only temporary.  For many years I have been supporting the building of an independent political movement, and now I am part of the fightback against the New York City plan to privatize public housing where 600,000 mostly poor people live.  But back in the 1960’s and 70s I would not have anticipated that hunger in this country would emerge as yet another dire outcome of the extreme income inequality supported and tolerated over many years by the politicians of both political parties.  Unfortunately the lack of food and decent housing is not confined only to the communities and families described in this book.  In my neighborhood on the upper west side of Manhattan, homelessness is and has been evident for years, but widespread hunger is now everywhere.  Whatever our political differences, we are all humans in an ever growing more inhumane world and we must take on this fight.

Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits.  She is the coordinator of the popular monthly independent volunteer gathering, Talkin’ Independence, a program of IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs. She is also active with the All Stars Project’s Committee for Independent Community Action.

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

Author with H. Luke Shaefer of

$2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 

 

P4P Reader’s Forum–Al Bell writes about $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

 

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It is disconcerting in the extreme to acknowledge that America, the consummate success story in the historic struggle of nations, is at once a first, second, and third world country. We often see information about this bizarre paradox. Too often, sources filter the information in ways that leave us perplexed regarding what we can or should do about it, if anything. $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America conveys our reality with penetrating impact.

It doesn’t just tell the story through the lives of real people with whom the authors have shared real time—as boldly crafted as that part of the book is—it does so with breathtaking wisdom. Informative, insightful, authentic, and often moving as well. However, it is the wisdom of its conclusions and the pragmatic good sense of its guidance that distinguishes this book.

Absent insight about the lives of real people who live on the front lines of personal disaster day in and day out, most of us would probably find the exceptional action insights in the last chapter unhinged from reality. It is everything but unhinged. The focus of my commentary is on this part of the brutally honest confrontation with poverty revealed in the previous 156 pages.

A single sentence by the authors captures for me the essence of the book’s common sense. It says, “the primary reason to strive relentlessly for approaches that line up with what most Americans believe is moral and fair is that government programs that are out of synch with these values serve to separate the poor from the rest of society, not integrate them into society.” Yes. Stigma doesn’t work.

We often fail to see complex and unpleasant truths clearly. Why? Because we so often view them through filters instead of prisms. Filters block out light intentionally, just as ideological mind sets block out honest reality and coherent thinking. Prisms, on the other hand, reveal light in its myriad components, revealing clarity impossible to see unaided. This book is a prism.

Would that we could supply prisms to our Legislative and Executive branches (the Judicial is another story) as oaths of office are administered. At least on the issue of poverty in America, we now have a prism with which we can work.

The conventional wisdom is that the poor who barely subsist and often fall below even that miserable metric are a terrible burden to society. Though not directly stated, what I take away from $2.00 A Day is the exact opposite. They are an incredible untapped resource that, if provided with a common sense support system, could not only join society, but significantly enhance it as well. The reality is what it is. How we view it and what we do about it is a matter of choice. Edin and Shaefer offer far better choices than we have seen thus far.

If those who seek to understand the economic, social, and technological trajectory on which our society is now embarked are even in the ball park, how we choose to unfetter this vast human resource can lead the way to the much broader strategy required to head off the massive disconnects we face on a much larger scale. It was one thing to hack off the futures of horse shoers over a hundred years ago as the automobile age hit us full throttle. It is quite something else to contemplate huge swaths of workers across our enterprise sectors finding themselves economic and social salvage.

A great deal is at stake here. This little book vastly outweighs it modest size with the power of its content. So much so, in fact, that I am sending a copy to our two Senators in Arizona, urging them to use their (increasingly) distinctive voices in our current governance wilderness to shape the dialogue on the poverty of our nation in more productive directions.

I cannot end this commentary without expressing my deepest appreciation to Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer for providing such a sorely needed breath of fresh air on a subject suffering so long under stifling ambiguity and distortion. They have given us a tool worth picking up.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

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