One thing I have been doing as of late is getting through some "school-like" books, which are not necessarily directly needing to be read for my dissertation but are connected to what I do (race and poverty, and the effects on cognition and education -- sounds fancier than it is, I promise). I picked up Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer's $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America as part of this. I hope you take some time to spend with this kind of literature, as this is a large chunk of our country.
Right here, in our own backyard, over 1.5 million households (not people -- households) attempt to get by on less than $2.00 cash per day. Think about how you spend $2.00 daily. Is that a part of your cab ride? Is that the large coffee you buy from the bodega? Or do you maybe swing by the vending machine for a quick snack? Is that subsumed in your gas station fill up? This might seem completely out of your realm of understanding, but I can assure you it the reality for millions of people in this country, over 3 million of which are children.
There should be some clarification, of course. WIC and SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, do not count toward this $2.00 per day because they are not cash. I repeat, they are not cash. They are incredibly helpful for so many families, especially with children, who need to eat (and please move on from the "food stamp recipients all buy lobster" myth), but they don't go toward rent (or other housing), utilities, clothing, or a phone. Do you think a phone is a luxury? You should talk to my friend who recently qualified for Medicaid; she was assigned a PCP she had to use, and when she called the number, the only way to schedule an appointment was to leave a voicemail and wait for them to call her back. What if you don't have a phone (which is a strong possibility if you qualify for SNAP)? How do you apply for a job if they only phone number you can offer is for the homeless shelter you are temporarily housed in? What do you wear to a job interview if you can't afford clean, decent clothing?
This, of course, is just if you count those who don't have jobs. For those who work part time hours at minimum wage, also living under $2.00 a day is a strong possibility (at $7.50 per hour for less than 25 hours a week [if you get that many] after taxes), especially with erratic hours that can be cut at any moment
I am just giving you the highlights of this argument, but if you would like to read more, you absolutely must pick up this book. In fact, I would like to see this book become a part of every college curriculum that exists. Once we as a nation begin to understand that this is not about lazy Americans unwilling to work but a larger, more serious systemic problem we can begin to fix things. Did you read that statistic? Over 3 million children. What do they wear to school? What do they write with and on if there is no cash to purchase supplies? Edin and Shaefer have written a wonderful book that gives you stories of the real-live people living off of this income -- a single mother of two in Chicago, a once-successful man raising almost all of his grandkids in the Midwest, and others. These are your fellow Americans, readers.