More Americans Scraping by on $2 a Day

study by the University of Michigan's National Poverty Center reports that more people are barely making ends meet in an era of too few jobs and a tattered safety net. According to the researchers, 1.4 million American households are living in "extreme poverty."

Mother Jones has more

The researchers were already aware of a rise in "deep poverty," a term used to describe households living at less than half of the federal poverty threshold, or $11,000 a year for a family of four. Since 2000, the number of people in that category has grown to more than 20 million — a whopping 60 percent increase. And the rate has grown from 4.5 percent of the population to 6.6 percent in 2011, the highest in recent memory save 2010, which was just a tad worse (6.7 percent).

But Edin and Shaefer wanted to see just how deep that poverty went. In doing so, they relied on a World Bank marker used to study the poor in developing nations: This designation, which they dubbed "extreme" poverty, makes deep poverty look like a cakewalk. It means scraping by on less than $2 per person per day, or $2,920 per year for a family of four. 

After welfare reform in 1996 made general cash assistance a lot harder to come by, extreme poverty increased among households with children, going from 636,000 in 1996 to 1.46 million in 2011. Members of these households are largely unemployed, and some receive no welfare or government assistance.

Households with Children, in Extreme Poverty

The Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center were vocal earlier this year about the consequences of Pennsylvania's decision to eliminate its general assistance program, which provided the last beacon of hope for some families.

At Mother Jones, reporter Gabriel Thompson told a story of poverty by following Josefa, a single mother living in Fresno, California. She receives $200 each month in food stamps and tries to make ends meet babysitting the children of area farmworkers. Many of her clients are scraping by so she charges only $10 per day per child.

Like most families living in poverty, Josefa places her hope in her young daughter who is excelling in school:

Neither is there a clear path out of deep poverty for Josefa. She puts in twelve-hour days six days a week, so there's not much room to increase her workload. By allowing six other families to work, she plays a small but key role in making Fresno an agriculture powerhouse, but her cut is minuscule. "That's why it's so important for my daughter to study," she says.


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