Notes & Quotes: $2.00 a Day by Kathryn J Edin and Luke Shaefer

The following are my favorite quotes from Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer's $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.
  1. In 2011, more than 4 percent of all households with children in the world’s wealthiest nation were living in a poverty so deep that most Americans don’t believe it even exists in this country...That’s about one out of every twenty-five families with children in America.
  2. As of 2011, the number of families in $2-a-day poverty had more than doubled in just a decade and a half.
  3. One way the poor pay for government aid is with their time.
  4. There are more avid postage stamp collectors in the United States than welfare recipients.
  5. Even when working full-time, these [low-wage] jobs often fail to lift a family above the poverty line. Even if Jennifer had worked a forty-hour week at Chicago City for an entire year—not taking a single day off (not even Christmas or Thanksgiving)—her annual earnings of $18,200 would still have left her family below the poverty threshold, set at $18,769 for a family of three in 2013. She would have gotten a substantial boost at tax time, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit and other refundable tax credits. But even after adding this in, her family would have escaped poverty by only a few thousand dollars. And, of course, it is unrealistic to think that she could have gone an entire year without taking a day off. Beyond holidays, when Chicago City was closed, the chances that neither of her children would need to stay home from school even one day during the year were slim to none. Jennifer didn’t have paid sick leave or personal days.
  6. About one in four jobs pays too little to lift a family of four out of poverty.
  7. Laying the blame on a lack of personal responsibility obscures the fact that there are powerful and ever-changing structural forces at play here. Service sector employers often engage in practices that middle-class professionals would never accept. They adopt policies that, purposely or not, ensure regular turnover among their low-wage workers, thus cutting the costs that come with a more stable workforce, including guaranteed hours, benefits, raises, promotions, and the like. Whatever can be said about the characteristics of the people who work low-wage jobs, it is also true that the jobs themselves too often set workers up for failure.
  8. Barely making it on $13 an hour is Jennifer’s version of the American dream. Yet even this modest aspiration can seem all but out of reach.
  9. In the early 2000s, researchers in Chicago and Boston mailed out fake résumés to hundreds of employers, varying only the names of the applicants, but choosing names that would be seen as identifiably black or white. Strikingly, “Emily” and “Brendan” were 50 percent more likely to get called for an interview than “Lakisha” and “Jamal.”
  10. The white applicant with a felony conviction was more likely to get a positive response from a prospective employer than the black applicant with no criminal record.
  11. The average white applicant with no criminal record had to apply for only three jobs to get a callback, while a white job seeker with a criminal record had to apply for six. Contrast this to the findings for African Americans: the average black applicant with no criminal record had to apply for seven jobs to get a callback, while a black job seeker with a felony conviction had to put in twenty applications.
  12. It stands to reason that by moving millions of unskilled single mothers into the labor force starting in the mid-1990s, welfare reform and the expansion of the EITC and other refundable tax credits may have actually played a role in diminishing the quality of the average low-wage job in America.
  13. Today there is no state in the Union in which a family that is supported by a full-time, minimum-wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent without being cost burdened, according to HUD.
  14. The most obvious manifestation of the affordable housing crisis is in rising rents. Between 1990 and 2013, rents rose faster than inflation in virtually every region of the country and in cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike. But there is another important factor at work here that is an even bigger part of the story than the hikes in rent: a fall in the earnings of renters. Between 2000 and 2012 alone, rents rose by 6 percent. During that same period, the real income of the middling renter in the United States fell 13 percent.
  15. As long as her iron, blood pressure, and temperature are okay, she’ll donate as often as she is legally allowed. But no one could reasonably think of a twice-weekly plasma donation as a job. It’s a survival strategy, one of many operating well outside the low-wage job market.
  16. For the $2-a-day poor, America’s private charities are the difference between shelter and no shelter, a meal and no meal, a new backpack for school and none at all. And yet they can provide only an incomplete patchwork of aid, with numerous holes. Even in Chicago, where there are more charities than in many other places, a life dependent on private charity is a life of insecurity.
  17. Alva Mae and her ten children living at home constitute the “official” SNAP assistance unit. She gets $1,600 in food stamps each month, but she has no cash to pay the utility bills (electricity, water, and sewer), to buy clothing, and so on. In a climate where the temperature has ranged from 9 to 109 degrees in just the past six months, it is clear that electricity is essential to heat and cool the apartment. The thirteenth of each month, when the family’s SNAP card gets replenished, always feels celebratory. But with bills that can only be paid with cash, the relief is short-lived. When asked how much of their monthly SNAP gets sold, Tabitha says, “She sell enough to get the light bill paid. So if the light bill comes to three hundred dollars, she take . . . enough out to get three hundred dollars left over.” (At the Delta’s going rate, it takes $600 in food stamps to yield $300 in cash.) Then “whatever other bills she has [she’ll sell more]. But the food stamps don’t last because of it.”
  18. To put it simply, not having cash basically ensures that you have to break the law and expose yourself to humiliation in order to survive. And when some among the community leadership—teachers, shop owners, public officials—prey on the poor by charging too much for decrepit trailers or by offering food or vital cash in exchange for sexual favors, the line between good and bad blurs even further, especially in the eyes of a child.
  19. At this writing, three of the parents who appear in this book have a child who has attempted suicide. Another—Tabitha’s older brother Mike—may have successfully ended his life. Yet another, only age nine, is being treated with antipsychotic drugs because he threatened his sister with a knife. Two of the girls whose families we describe have ended up selling their bodies in exchange for food and money. One had to be treated for multiple sexually transmitted diseases at age fifteen. Certainly, this is too high a price for children to pay.
  20. Our approach to ending $2-a-day poverty is guided by three principles:
    1. all deserve the opportunity to work;
    2. parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own;
    3. not every parent will be able to work, or work all of the time, but parents’ well-being, and the well-being of their children, should nonetheless be ensured.
  21. One could make a strong argument that government itself ought to create a substantially larger share of the jobs than it does now—jobs like those provided by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Certainly, there is ample work to be done in our communities. The nation’s infrastructure is badly out-of-date in many places—often crumbling, sometimes downright dangerous. The National Park Service and state and local park districts are underfunded; this limits hours and upkeep. Safe, stimulating day care centers—the kind of environments our toddlers and preschoolers require to thrive—are too few. We need many more after-school programs for school-age children. There are too few tutoring programs. There is too little elder care. Our public libraries, pools, and recreation centers—vital institutions for the safety and well-being of our children—sometimes limit their hours due to lack of funding. Trash litters our rural byways and our city streets. There is a widespread need for treatment centers for the chemically addicted and shelters for the homeless. There is enough to do.
  22. Most economists now agree that the minimum wage could be raised to at least $10 per hour without driving down the supply of jobs to a meaningful degree, and that doing so might modestly boost economic growth. All of the adults we have written about in this book have worked for less than $10 per hour for much or all of their working lives. Boosting their wages may make their personal circumstances less precarious, which in turn may make it easier for them to stay in their jobs and avoid falling into a spell of extreme destitution.
  23. Researchers estimate that American workers lose billions of dollars each year to what is referred to as “wage theft”—clear violations of labor standards that include paying less than the minimum wage, forcing employees to work off the clock, and failing to pay mandated overtime rates (like what happened to Jennifer Hernandez at Catalina). If one tallied all of the losses suffered by victims of robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts combined, the figure wouldn’t even approach what is taken from hardworking Americans’ pockets by employers who violate the nation’s labor laws. And the victims are generally the most vulnerable among us.
  24. In no state today does a full-time job paying minimum wage allow a family to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.
  25. No American should have to resort to the lengths they must go to in order to generate that critical resource. Most Americans cringe at the idea of fellow citizens having to spend hours scrounging for aluminum cans or to take iron pills to ensure they can donate plasma twice a week—just to keep their families barely treading water. Selling your SNAP, your kids’ Social Security numbers, or your body are strategies that the $2-a-day poor believe are immoral, not merely illegal. Parents should not be forced to cast aside strongly held notions of right and wrong simply to keep their kids in socks and underwear.