Lin Yang, PhD Student & Research Officer
London School of Economics, London
Kathy Edin spoke about her personal experiences interviewing and following the lives of eight exceptionally poor families, during research for her book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. Spanning four states, these families were cases selected from 1.5 million families per month surviving on cash incomes of under $2 per person per day, based on co-author Luke Shaefer’s analyses of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Along with powerful anecdotes, she outlined her “three-legged stool of causality” of extreme poverty: 1) the failing cash-welfare system, 2) perilous work and degraded relationships between low-wage employers and employees, and 3) the affordable housing crisis. Edin emphasised the growing consensus that the 1996 TANF welfare reforms have been disastrous for extreme poverty in the US. She summarised three principles underlying the policy recommendations in her book: 1) all deserve the opportunity to work, 2) parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own, away from potentially perilous “doubling up” of family living arrangements, and 3) when work doesn’t work, there needs to be an adequate safety net. As she summarised, “Nobody said they want more handouts. They said they want to work. To contribute. To be part of society.”
John Hills’ response pointed out that despite the deceptive political rhetoric labelling the poor as “a presumed unchanging underclass”, empirical evidence shows that in reality most of those in poverty are constantly changing due to monthly and even weekly fluctuations in income. He pointed to further findings in his book Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and Us.
Lisa McKenzie’s response focused on a case study of generational poverty persistence at St. Ann’s council estate in Nottingham, the subject of her book Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.