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IntroductionDEEPONTHESOUTHSIDEofChicago,farfromtheever-evolvingsteelskylineofAmerica’sthird-largestcity,sitsasmall,story-and-a-halfwhiteclapboardhousecladinpeelingpaint.That’swhereSusanBrownliveswithherhusband,Devin,andtheireight-month-olddaughter,Lauren,thethreeofthemsharingthehome*withSusan’sgrandmother,stepgrandfather,anduncle.Woodenstepsleaduptotheage-wornthresholdofanenclosedfrontporch,whichslumpsnoticeablytotheleft.Toenterthehouse,visitorsmustsidestepawarped,mold-stainedplywoodboardthatcoversalargeholeintheporchfloor.Thefrontdooropensintoasmall,darkroomfurnishedwithaworncouch,ashakywoodencoffeetable,andaleatheretteeasychairwithstuffingescapingfromtheleftarm.Upandtotheleft,youcanseeadarkpatchwherethewallmeetstheceiling.Itseemslikethespotisatbestdampandatworstcrumbling.Theairisdense.Itiswellaboveninetydegreesoutside,butitfeelsevenhotterinsidethehouse.Noneofthewindowsopen,althoughgapsbetweentheframesandtheircasingsletinalittlebitofair.Thecarpetinginthefrontroomhasbeendiscoloredbyfootstepsandspills,anditsmattedsurfacefeelsabitsticky.Wherethecarpethaswornaway,therearethecrumblingremainsofblack-and-whitelinoleum.Wherethelinoleumhaswornthrough,therearethevestigesofonce-finehardwoodfloors.Atthebackofthehouse,agiant1980s-erarefrigeratordominatesasmallkitchenoutfittedwithopenshelvingandaporcelainsinkthatmaywellbeacenturyold.Insidetherefrigerator,therearejustafewbottlesofbabyformulathatSusanhasgottenfromtheSpecialSupplementalNutritionProgramforWomen,Infants,andChildren,calledWIC.ShesaysofbabyLauren,“ShegetsWIC,butitdon’tlast...Theygiveher,like,sevencans,butit’slikethelittlecans.”Otherwise,shesayswithashrug,“wedon’thavenofoodinthefreezerrightnow.”Thefridgegroansasitworkstokeepitsmostlyemptyshelvescold.Intheheartofallthechaosthatisinevitablewhensixpeopleshareacramped,wornthree-bedroomhome,thereisasmalldiningareasandwichedbetweenthefrontroomandtheemptyfridgeintheback.Initsitsarounddiningtablecoveredwithapristinewhitelinentablecloth,intricatelyembroideredaroundtheedges.Fourplacesettingsareoutfittedwithgold-rimmedchinaandsilver


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flatware.Fourbrightwhitenapkinsembellishedwiththesameembroideryasthetableclothhavebeencarefullyfoldedandplacedinlargecrystalgoblets.Itishardtoimagineamoreeleganttableatwhichtoshareameal.Yethereitsits—neverused,neverdisturbed—accompaniedbyasinglechair.Thistableharksbacktoadifferentera,abettertimeinthelifeofSusan’sfamily,whenowningthishouseinthispartofChicagosignaledtheachievementofmiddle-classAfricanAmericanrespectability.BeforetheeconomicanchorsofthisfarSouthSideneighborhoodcloseddown—thesteelyardsinthe1960s,thehistoricPullmanrailwaycarcompanybytheearly1980s,andthemammothSherwin-Williamspaintfactoryin1995—Roselandwasacommunitywithdecent-paying,stablejobs.Itwasagoodplacetoraiseyourkids.Asthejobsleft,thedrugsarrived.“Itgotworse,it’schanged,”Susansays.There’s“toomuchviolence...unnecessaryviolenceatthat.”Givenwhatherfamilyhasbeenthrough,thisismorethanabitofanunderstatement.Susan’sbrotherwasshotinbroaddaylightjustoneblockaway.Hergreat-grandmother,inwhosehousetheyareliving,hasfledforameagerretirementoutwest.Susan’sfamilywouldlikenothingmorethantofindanotherplacetolive,saferstreetsandahomethatisn’tcrumblingaroundthem.Yetdespiteallofitsills,thishouseistheonlythingkeepingSusan,Devin,andLaurenoffthestreets.Theyhavespentthepastfewmonthssurvivingoncashincomesolowthatitaddsuptolessthan$2perperson,perday.Withhardlyacenttotheirnames,theyhavenowhereelsetogo.Twodollarsislessthanthecostofagallonofgas,roughlyequivalenttothatofahalfgallonofmilk.ManyAmericanshavespentmorethanthatbeforetheygettoworkorschoolinthemorning.Yetin2011,morethan4percentofallhouseholdswithchildrenintheworld’swealthiestnationwerelivinginapovertysodeepthatmostAmericansdon’tbelieveitevenexistsinthiscountry.Devinhasahighschooldiploma.Acleanrecord.Someworkhistory.Hespentmostofthepastyearworkingconstructiongigsoffthebooksforanuncle,untilhegotatempjobupinthenorthernsuburbs.Butthatjoblastedonlyafewmonths,andnowhe’sgonehalfayearwithoutfindinganother.AftertwomonthsathomefollowingthebirthofbabyLauren,Susanbeganafranticsearchforwork,butithasn’tbeengoingwell.“I’vebeenlookingforjobsforforever,”shesays,clearlydemoralized.“It’sgonnadrivemecrazy!”BeforeshebecamepregnantwithLauren,SusanearnedherGEDandspentmorethanayearincommunitycollege,completingtheremedialcoursesthatwouldallowhertofinallybeginearningcreditstowardacertificationinearlychildhoodeducation.Yetshecan’taffordtoreturntocollegerightnow.Somebodyhastofindwork.




See more: Paw Patrol Season 5 Episode 24, Paw Patrol: Season 5, Episode 24

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DevinspeakswithmoreconfidencethanSusan.Hebelievesthatanydaynow,thingsareboundtoturnaround.OnhiswaytoapplyforapositionattheSave-A-Lotgrocerystorenearby,hisbluejeansarecleanandcrisp,hisshort-sleevedbutton-downshirtpressed.Hehasheardthatthereisanopeningforpart-timeworkintheproducedepartment,paying$8.50anhour.Despitesixmonthsofrejections,heisconfidentthathe’sgotthisone.Atonlytwentyhoursaweek,itwon’tgethisfamilyabovethepovertyline,butit’sastart.NowifonlySusancanfindsomething.Atleastchildcareisn’taworry.Susan’sgrandmotherhashadtoleaveherjobtocareforherhusband,justhomeafteralonghospitalization.Shesaysthatwhileshe’snursinghimathome,shecanbabysitLaurenifSusanfindsajob.Susanissickofgoinghungry,sickofeatinginstantnoodlesmorning,noon,andnight.She’stiredoffallingfurtherandfurtherbehindonherbills,tiredofbeingafreeloaderinherownhome.Withnocashcomingin,thewholefamilyisinhocktoSusan’sabsenteelandlord,hergreat-grandmother,whochargeseachofhertenantsamodestrenttocoverthepropertytaxesandsupplementherSocialSecuritycheck.Susan’sunclehasbeenscrapingtogetherjustenoughtopaytheutilitieswithhisslimearningsfromtheoccasionalsidejobfixingcarsinthebackyard.ThewholehouseholddependsonSusanandDevin’sfoodstampbenefitsinordertoeat.SoasSusangoesabouttheworkofcaringforherbabyandsearchingforajob,sheisalsolearninganotherskill—theartofsurvivingonvirtuallynothing.TheRiseof$2-a-DayPovertyBy2010,KathrynEdinhadspentmorethantwentyyearscanvassingpoorcommunitiesalloverthecountry,sittingwithlow-incomeparentsattheirkitchentablesorastheywentabouttheirwork,talkingabouttheireconomiclives.Beginningintheearly1990s,sheandhercolleagueLauraLeindetailedthebudgetsofhundredsofthenation’swelfarerecipients.Theyshowedhow,despitereceivingafewhundreddollarsinwelfarebenefitseachmonth,thesefamiliesstillstruggledtosurvive.Typically,theywereabletocoveronlyaboutthree-fifthsoftheirexpenseswiththecashandin-kindassistancetheyreceivedfromthewelfareoffice.Eachmonth,theyhadtoscrambletobridgethelargegapintheirbudgets.Yetonthewhole,EdinandLeinfoundthatbydeployinggritandingenuity,thesefamilieswereusuallyabletostaveoffthemostsevereformsofmaterialdeprivation.Inthesummerof2010,Edinreturnedtothefieldtoupdateherworkontheverypoor.Shewasstruckbyhowmarkedlydifferentthingsappearedfromjust


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fifteenyearsbefore.Inthecourseofherinterviews,shebegantoencountermanyfamilieslivinginconditionssimilartothoseshewouldfindwhenshemetSusanandDevinBrownin2012—withnovisiblemeansofcashincomefromanysource.Thesefamiliesweren’tjustpoorbyAmericanstandards.Theywerethepoorestofthepoor.Someclaimedfoodstamps,nowcalledSNAP,fortheSupplementalNutritionAssistanceProgram.Afewhadahousingsubsidy.Mosthadatleastonehouseholdmembercoveredbysomeformofgovernment-fundedhealthinsurance.Somereceivedanoccasionalbagofgroceriesfromafoodpantry.Butwhatwassostrikinglydifferentfromadecadeandahalfearlierwasthattherewasvirtuallynocashcomingintothesehomes.Notonlyweretherenoearnings,therewasnowelfarecheckeither.Thesefamiliesdidn’tjusthavetoolittlecashtosurviveon,aswastrueforthewelfarerecipientsEdinandLeinhadmetintheearly1990s.Theyoftenhadnocashatall.Andtheabsenceofcashpermeatedeveryaspectoftheirlives.Itseemedasthoughnotonlycashwasmissing,buthopeaswell.ThequestionthatbegantokeepEdinupatnightwaswhethersomethinghadchangedattheverybottomofthebottomofAmericansociety.Herobservationscouldhavebeenafluke.Toknowforsure,shehadtofindasurveyrepresentativeoftheU.S.populationthataskedjusttherightquestions.Andithadtohaveaskedthemovermanyyearssoshecouldseewhetherextremedestitutionhadbeengrowing,especiallysincethemid-1990s,whenthecountry’smainwelfareprogram,AidtoFamilieswithDependentChildren(AFDC),wasreplacedbyasystemoftemporary,time-limitedaid.Itwasentirelyacoincidencethatinthefallof2011,LukeShaefercametoHarvard,whereEdinwasteaching,forasemester.ShaeferisaleadingexpertontheSurveyofIncomeandProgramParticipation(SIPP),theonlysurveythatcouldanswerEdin’squestion.TheSIPP,administeredbytheU.S.CensusBureau,isbasedonsurveyinterviewswithtensofthousandsofAmericanhouseholdseachyear.CensusBureauemployeesaskdetailedquestionsabouteverypossiblesourceofincome,includinggiftsfromfamilyandfriendsandcashfromoddjobs.Akeygoalofthesurveyistogetthemostaccurateaccountingpossibleoftheincomesofthepoorandthedegreetowhichtheyparticipateingovernmentprograms.Nooneclaimsthesedataareperfect:peoplemaynotwanttotellastranger“fromthegovernment”abouttheintimatedetailsoftheirfinances,especiallyiftheythinkitcouldgetthemintroublewiththelaw.ButtheSIPPcantellusmoreabouttheeconomiclivesofthepoorestAmericansthananyothersource.Andbecauseithasaskedthesamequestionsovermanyyears,itistheonlytoolthatcanrevealif,andhowmuch,thenumberofthevirtuallycashlesspoorhasgrownintheyearssincewelfarereform.