Home Health News More Than 1.4 Million Families Living On $2 A Day Or Less

More Than 1.4 Million Families Living On $2 A Day Or Less

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I saw this, this morning, and was crushed:

The number of families living on $2 or less per person per day for at least a month in the USA has more than doubled in 15 years to 1.46 million.

That’s up from 636,000 households in 1996, says a new study released by researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University.

Government benefits blunt the impact of such extreme poverty, but not completely, says one of the researchers, Luke Shaefer, a professor of social work at Michigan.

When food stamps are included as income, the number of households in extreme poverty, defined as living on $2 a day, drops to 800,000, Shaefer says. That’s up from 475,000 in 1996.

“This seems to be a group that has fallen through the cracks,” says Kathryn Edin, a Harvard researcher and professor of public policy.

The study found that among households in extreme poverty, one in five received rent vouchers or lived in public housing. Sixty-six percent had at least one child with public health insurance. The study did not factor in how those benefits affect household income.

Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says most aid to the poor today is in non-cash assistance. Last year, he says, the federal and state government spent $900 billion on 70 programs that assist the poor, from health care and food stamps to energy assistance and college grants.

“When you look at that type of family, you don’t see the type of deprivation this study suggests,” he says.

Because the study shows households in extreme poverty for a month, it is more reflective of people losing jobs, getting divorced or having short-term crises, he says.

Shaefer says, “We are trying to document the growth in deep poverty. … Even one month living at this level is concerning.”

Magdalyn March, 30, of Birmingham, Ala., can relate to those living in extreme poverty. In 2006, she lost a seasonal job at a packing warehouse, split with an abusive boyfriend and was caring for her two children. She received about $200 a month in government cash assistance and $282 in food stamps.

March and her children lived in a motel when she was with her boyfriend. When he left, she couldn’t afford the room, and she and her children were kicked out. March stayed with friends and relatives for a few nights at a time but ended up in a homeless shelter.

She credits the shelter, First Light, with helping her find a job as a waitress at a chain restaurant and affordable day care. She says she still struggles. She needs glasses and has to go to the dentist but can’t afford it. March and her children are living with her mother now.

“You’ve got to come up with a system,” she says, “because you can’t live off of that. You really can’t.”

You guys, I am crushed by this. $2 a day? I mean, it’s one thing to eat $2 per meal per person per day… but $2 per person per day? And look at the number of people saved by food stamps.

This is why I constantly write about destigmatizing food stamps – people who are living on pennies per day are “afraid” to use the very system we all pay into with our taxes. C’mon… far too often, we find ourselves completely distanced from the people who have these struggles. I know the feeling…but I also know that had a few things not gone differently for me, I can’t imagine where my daughter and I would be today.

I cannot be the only person heartbroken by this. Please tell me I’m not.

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Alice February 24, 2012 - 12:20 PM

I recently discovered that I qualify for food stamps and I was SO happy and relieved. It makes the difference, for me, between cheap, bland, not always super nutritious food and a vibrant diet for my family. Were we starving before? No. Does this mean I can pay my bills without compromising on food variety? YES.

My ex-husband was notified by the children’s school that we were on food stamps and has filed for a change in custody, arguing that if I *need* “welfare” than I am no longer a fit mother.

And obviously, I can’t afford representation. So. Food stamps may have improved my food situation, but *may* cost me custody of my children.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 24, 2012 - 12:25 PM

Unbelievable. I am crushed for you. Even more so, now. 🙁

If people can’t afford to feed their families [even processed food], wouldn’t it make you MORE fit by securing that assistance? My heart is breaking. 🙁

Msladee February 24, 2012 - 5:33 PM

There is so much wrong with how we treat people with little to no money in this society. If it’s not denial of a poor population, it’s shaming of the very people who need help. Not only is their a social stigma, but also legal consequences as well. Alice, please try to contact your local Legal Aid Society or nearest family law clinic. They may be able to represent you.

linda February 24, 2012 - 8:23 PM

Dear Alice

You want to contact the legal aid program in your area. This is a free, national service for low/no income people. If you don’t know where the office in your area is, call your local city or county courthouse, and they will be able to get you the phone number.

Your husband can file anything he wants, but it won’t amount to a hill of beans in front of a judge.


Brianna Leigh February 24, 2012 - 9:50 PM

God, that’s awful.

Sandy February 24, 2012 - 9:54 PM

I work for the food stamp office and I just want to let you know that it do not make you an unfit mother to ask for assistance. I feel it would make you less of a mother or woman if you did not try to get assistance where ever you can to ensure your children are eating health and/or have food period. If you want to fight for custody and you don’t have any money for legal assistance you can always go to Legal Aide of America in your state and/or the State Bar for attorney’s in your state also to get free legal assistance. It’s called Pro Bono assistance. Hope this help! Good Luck!

Pam October 6, 2012 - 11:27 AM

Why did the school system notify the ex-husband? I am a teacher and ( pardon me, but… “I ain’t nvever hear do shit like that!” I think your privacy may have been comprised. You should be able to get a Legal Aid lawyer. There are law agencies exclusively for struggling people. Some earnest and enthusiastic young lawyer would love to sink his teeth in that. Do you have any media hungry young activist ministers around? They should be helpful too. I’m pretty certain that your rights were violated by the school system, and if the only thing he has is the food stamp thing, he is clearly trying to get out of child support, and gain some tax deductions, so a women’s rights group may be interested in giving you support too. Look around, go to the library and ask where to get started. Girl, you could probably go national with this shit.

mourrene February 24, 2012 - 2:27 PM

What a heartbreaking article and post by Alice. I agree, the use of food stamps should be de-stigmatized. It’s a way to provide food and, while there are abuses, the vast majority of recipients truly need them to survive. If the rich and upper middle class have been negatively impacted by the recession, how much so are those already at the bottom of the totem pole?

Lorrie February 24, 2012 - 2:34 PM

Of course, your not the only one Erika. This is why that article on food stamps being spent on gourmet food items is disturbing, not because they don’t have a right to do anything they want with their food stamps but because of the idea that food is not just to sustain but to maintain a certain lifestyle while others scrimp and scrap. The new CalFresh EBT “food stamp” system developed in California was meant to allow college students to receive food stamps instead of allowing single head of households that barely make above 20,000 + child support, a year with three children to receive food stamps. Instead the federal government continues to lower the poverty guidelines so that the numbers of those below the extreme poverty level will be skewed or swayed in their favor statistically. The numbers are still bad but would be worse. It also allows the food stamp programs to deny otherwise eligible families based upon that income. So not only do these struggling families barely have enough money for inflated rent, the little extra money they do have must be traded every other month with utilites and gas. So, one month you might spend $200 on groceries (that’s $100 per pay check) even if you don’t want to and the next month you spend on $50 so you can pay for that utility bill that has been piling up. I personally can only pay my gas bill every three months and thank goodness they allow that. Gas for the car must be paid regardless and that’s where the credit card and borrowing from friends and family comes in and don’t even mention unexpected car repairs, registration, insurance or a ticket..lol. This does not take into account childcare expenses, sport fees and other educational costs. These families may receive healthcare – I know I do, thank the Good Lord and I receive housing, BUT the housing authority uses the same numbers from the federal government that the social services and child welfare people do to calculate eligibility for food stamps, so not only does the fact that I work, work against me but my rent portion is higher than most people living in a home because over the last five years – due to federal cut backs the local housing authorities (in order to remain viable) changed their eligibility guidelines. For example: If you had three children with one adult you qualified for a three bedroom apartment but now four people can only have a two bedroom, so if you were phased in after the change then your rent portion automatically went up, unless you moved to a smaller place. So if you are poor, make a little over 20,000 + child support per year, you might get healthcare and housing but you may not qualify for food stamps and your rent portion is most likely over 1/3 of your monthly earnings, depending on your total income from all sources and where you live. I always run a deficit for about six months and then get my tax return, I pay off all my bills that collected and then attempt to stay ahead. Then start the process all over again. I hate the Pay Day Advance machine but in those six months he is my friend, the credit card gets worn out and nothing I do gets me ahead. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs so every extra penny is spent on family. I have several degrees, I work part time because the field I work in is not hiring and is happy allowing me to work as a temp for 30 hours per week no benefits – because it benefits them right? I apply for work allll the time, I get interviews, I make it to the final round many times, I tried working outside of my field in service and was told I didn’t have enough experience to wash dishes. Oh come on! The important thing for me to focus on is not the system but how I can become an exception outside of the system so that I may catapult myself out of it. So now I am focused on setting up a website, getting training on how to start my own business and really seeing through all those visions I thought I could not do without a degree, with or without support and with or without all the money I think I should have…Oh sorry I took that discussion in an entire different direction however as a fellow writer I hope I have given you material for more blog topics…wink wink. –and that’s my .50 cents…lol

T.R. February 24, 2012 - 5:04 PM

Erika you said it…I try to remember there but for the grace of God go I. And I’m not even saying they don’t have god’s grace. It’s just one circumstance or occurrence that can make the difference.

Also, Alice – check your area for pro bono/legal aid services. They specially cater to people who are financially unable to hire an attorney at full rate. Most of them deal with family law issues. You can google or call the state bar in your state.

Don’t get scared that’s what he wants. Most judges aren’t that naive. A lot of judges who sit in family law have done so for years and they have seen most every trick in the book. I hate to say it, but your ex doesn’t want them he just wants to hurt you. I’m not saying he doesn’t love your children but my question is if he’s truly concerned about your children then regardless of the court ordered child support, he’d help you out with the kids well being without hesitation. That’s what parents do. I hope this helps you in some way.

SavSec February 24, 2012 - 9:43 PM

I JUST budgeted out my last money for the month. I realize that I can spend like 20 bucks per day for me and my kids before I get paid again. But I will get paid again, thank God. I have nothing to complain about, reading the article. Thank God for blessings, because $2/day is criminal.

Erika February 24, 2012 - 9:57 PM

I don’t have a problem paying into that tax pot because, BOOM, when I lost my job, it was stamps & WIC that helped feed myself and my 2 year old at the time. In addition with using coupons, church pantries, and farmer markets, I was assured that my family would eat.

People need to understand, you never know when someone terrible happens. We all can agree, bad things will happen to good people (it’s what makes us stronger). It’s one less stress bug to worry about when something does happen, you don’t have to worry about food.

The only thing I don’t like about food vouchers and stamps is what people do with them. But I guess that would fall in line with nutrition education. I’ve seen friends get reckless with stamps (energy drinks and crab legs) and wonder why their groceries don’t make it to the end of the month. Families buy cinder block size packages of ramen noodles over veggies and fruit. The sad thing is, where I live the noodles are cheaper than veggies and fruit.

WIC is making a effort with nutrition education, but food stamps/vouchers from federal I don’t see a push in nutrition education (i.e. including an insert with your bridge card about the food pyramid is not quite doing it).

junglebabe October 6, 2012 - 11:25 AM

LORRIE–if you are getting enough tax refund to pay off bills, you are having too much withheld every month. You can probably adjust your number of exemptions. I’m not sure how/if earned income credit works anymore but you might could actually draw some of that on your paychecks if you prove you wouldn’t owe taxes etc. I’m not sure how all that works anymore, but you could probably call a local school that teaches even high school accounting and talk to a teacher. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance will be starting after the first of the year and they could probably at least tell you how it works. Look on some professional accounting and firms websites. They have ALOT of public resources, esp near tax season.

junglebabe October 6, 2012 - 11:29 AM

LORRIE–oh, the accounting sites i was referring to are ones such as aicpa.org; google for name of your state’s “_______ society of CPA” or even your stated’s board of accountancy.

Pam October 6, 2012 - 11:34 AM

I didn’t pay attention to the date of the post, so I’m late. What I wrote stands though. School systems are allowed to give information about households. We are not even allowed to discuss it among ourselves in the interest of the child, unless we are in a special type of meeting. So I know that disclosing information to another citizen is criminal. Please. Lawsuit.

Diana Allen October 6, 2012 - 12:09 PM

Yes, we live in a tough tough world…and although not to offend anyone…but I also know God will take care of you if you believe and just ask. Those who have to use food stamps..the system..whatever you want to call it…if you need it, use it. That is what is there for. One step at a time..and don’t even listen to what nobody says..cause there are so many people to include myself only a paycheck or two away from “the system”…God Bless and Keep your head up!

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