The problem of poverty and low quality of life is a significant one in the modern-day. Even in developed countries like the United States, more than 3 million people live in impoverished conditions. Those numbers are much higher in the less developed countries. Edin and Schaefer, in their book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” investigate problems that people who live in poverty face every day. They are doing that by showing readers stories of such individuals and their families. Not only that, but the authors also analyze the problems within the welfare programs of the US society and suggest their policies to aid the impoverished. As such, those suggestions should be scrutinized and debated to figure out whether they are viable in the modern United States.
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Work, welfare, and policies
The presidential act of 1996 and its consequences
To start, the welfare reform of 1996, officially known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, should be examined. It was a part of the presidential program by then-president Bill Clinton which fulfilled his election promises to end welfare. As such, its cornerstone was the idea that requiring those reliant on welfare to work would not only encourage self-sufficiency but also reduce their reliance on the government.
It would reduce the spending of the government budget, freeing funds for other possible needs. While this program has been lauded as a success, it also drew some criticism over the fact that people in need of welfare could no longer access it. Such is the case with single mothers, who were forced to work or to turn to other means to survive, some of those illegal or harmful.
Other consequences of the Presidential act are described in the reviewed book. Edin and Schaefer show personal stories of the people who were affected by that act the most. One such story tells about the family of Jessica and Travis Compton and their two daughters (Edin and Schaefer 85). Since Travis had lost his working hours at the local McDonald’s, Jessica has to donate plasma twice a week for her family to have any income (Edin and Schaefer 85). They have no access to welfare because they are below the needed working hours to get one (Edin and Schaefer 85). Such stories are throughout the book, showing the reader that success is not in caseload reduction.
From those stories, it can be seen that the strategy of requiring work may work favorably in the case of non-hindered individuals. Still, it is also harmful in cases where people are not able to find a job or have circumstances obstructing them from doing so. In the case of the Compton family, there are two such factors: inability to get an education for the job and children (Edin and Schaefer 87). Reduction in welfare is forcing such families to peruse charities, public spaces, donations, and other such strategies to survive.
The welfare reform of 1996 and its consequences are actively hindering low-income families that to achieve self-sufficiency. As the government’s support was withdrawn, members of such families became less likely to get an education needed for jobs with higher pay. That, in turn, is one of the factors leading to the increase of households who live in impoverished conditions. Nowadays, more than five hundred thousand such families exist in the United States, with more than three million children living in such circumstances (Edin and Schaefer 135). Their number keeps rising, conclusively proving that the strategy of requiring to work does not help an individual to become self-sufficient.
The authors’ approach
In the conclusion part of their book, Edin and Schaefer provide a suggestion of a possible litmus test for any welfare program in the future (136). It is formulated as “whether it will serve to integrate the poor – particularly the $2-a-day poor – into society” (Edin and Schaefer 158). The authors provide their approach to any future reform as well, stating that it is built on three principles. Those principles are that all should have an opportunity to work, that parents should be able to raise the children in the place of their choosing and that while not every parent will be able to work, their well-being and well-being of their children should be assured (Edin and Schaefer 159).
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It is a valid point of view that takes into account the fact that low-income households not only lack material relief but also bear the social stigma. Without reintegrating them into society, it will be almost impossible to make them productive members of the community. An equal opportunity to work is a logical conclusion from the integration, as the stigma of the $2-a-day poor is one of the barriers standing between such individuals and employers. Parenting principles are also logical, as they will allow parents to work, knowing that their children are cared about, as well as being assured that their well-being would be provided. As such, it could be said that those principles are well-thought-out and are based on the results of the authors’ research.
In addition to those three principles, the conclusion part of “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” contains welfare policies that the authors propose instead of the existing one. Those are increasing the amount and qualities of jobs available, requiring states to incentivize states to spend a greater amount of funds on the TANF, and providing a governmental housing subsidy (Edin and Schaefer 160-163).
Those measures could make the situation better, but they are not feasible ones, as the modern political climate is against the government’s intervention in the welfare situation. Besides that, they still do not resolve the main issue of TANF. That problem is the amount of red tape that people are applying for a helpmeet. Another concern is the fact that many people requiring help do not even attempt to reach out to welfare offices. That is caused by the shame and social stigma that such an application provides. As such, those suggestions are at best a stopgap measure in the process of developing a new welfare policy.
The authors understand this as well, as Edin and Schaefer suggest replacing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) with earned income tax credits (EITC), expanding it in the process (163).
The authors state that EITC manages to do what TANF fails to – keeping the poor in the society (Edin and Schaefer 163). As TANF and families receiving it are often stigmatized and alienated from their communities, it mostly hinders the attempts to reintegrate impoverished households into society. EITC, on the other hand, does not carry that stigma, is tied to the employment, included in the federal tax refund along with the over withheld wages. That, in turn, makes it more empowering and grants a feeling that EITC is something that is earned and not given for charity (Edin and Schaefer 164).
Still, while the feasibility of some of the authors’ suggestions is low, it does not mean that they are without any merit. Increasing numbers and diversification of jobs available to the poor, along with housing subsidies, would do much to abate their everyday problems and to make them self-sufficient. Replacing the TANF with EITC would, in turn, remove the social stigma of welfare from them and give them the sense of an earned reward, make them feel like they deserve that. It would also go a long way in increasing public opinion on such measures, as they will no longer see the government help as something given for no reason but as a reward for hard work.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the problem of the welfare policy is a complex one requiring intense scrutiny and testing before being approved. However, it should also be said that the modern system is ineffective and demeaning to the people it is supposed to support. Red tape in welfare offices, the social stigma associated with TANF, insufficient amounts of provided help, and rising numbers of poor households, along with their alienation, are the products of the existing policy. Those results prove that it should be revised and reworked to maximize the ability to support the $2-a-day poor and their families.
Edin, Kathryne J., and Luke H. Schaefer. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.