11:22 GMT11 July 2020
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    Newly published research highlights the pervasiveness of American poverty.

    It may be hard to imagine how one can survive earning no more than $2 a day, but for 1.5 million families and 3 million children in the US, this single digit is a severe reality, according to a new book, "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America" by co-authors Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University Kathryn Edin and University of Michigan professor of social work and public policy H. Luke Shaefer.

    The US is considered one of the most developed capitalist states in the world, but that doesn't change the fact that an increasing number of its residents live in conditions one would be forgiven for thinking only those in third world countries have seen.

    According to Edin and Shaefer, the US owes its shocking prevalence of poverty to conditions within the labor market, as companies do whatever it takes to reduce their costs, putting such considerations above the plight of low-wage employees. Parents having to deal with on-call scheduling, wage theft, unhealthy workplaces, cuts in hours — these are only few examples from the long list of problems within the US workforce.

    "These families, contrary to what many would expect, are workers, and their slide into poverty is a failure of the labor market and our safety net, as well as their own personal circumstances," Edin told CBS News, implying that the stereotypical perception of people getting by on state welfare is not always just.

    What's worse, welfare programs don't even work the way they should. Within the two decades since Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was introduced in the 1990s, the number of poor families receiving benefits has gradually decreased. Welfare assistance reached more than 14.2 million Americans in 1994, but by 2014 only 3.8 million Americans were aided by TANF, Edin and Shaefer write in their book.

    By interviewing families in desperate economic straits in four US regions, Edin determined that many don't even know the program exists, while in other cases they hesitate to apply because of the stigma attached to relying on welfare, or because of the program's complex requirements.

    Two US dollars a day is the threshold the World Bank uses to measure global poverty in the developed world. As it is nearly impossible for a family to survive on such an income, people find other ways of keeping the lights on, like selling their own plasma ($30 a pop, according to CBS) or selling scrap metal.

    "In no cases did [these strategies] raise people out of poverty," Edin said.

    For solutions to ease the struggle of America's ultrapoor, the authors suggest reforming TANF and increasing the quality of jobs available to people at the bottom of the income ladder.

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    Tags:
    labor, Welfare, Poverty, World Bank, United States
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