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Poverty in America

Renee's guest is Kathryn Edin, a sociologist and a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in the study of people living on welfare. Edin is author of "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America."
Season 12 Episode 18 Length 28:02 Premiere: 02/03/17

Poverty in America After Welfare Reform

Since welfare reform was enacted in the 1990s, the United States has seen a sharp rise in the number of families living on as little as $2 a day in cash, according to a Johns Hopkins University sociologist.

Kathryn Edin, a poverty researcher and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, is the author, with H. Luke Schaefer, of “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” (2015). She spoke with Renee Shaw on KET’s Connections about her research and its implications for policy.

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According to the book, in 2011, about one out of every 25 households in America with children was living on no more than $2 a day in cash income, a number that had doubled since 1996, when welfare reforms were enacted.

“We’re kind of focusing on losses in manufacturing jobs, but even when you look at the low wage sector, the bad jobs of today are simply much, much, worse than the jobs of 20 years ago,” she said.

Edin said it is very difficult for those without a high school diploma to find a full-time job in the retail sector. “Employers will give you 25, maybe 30 hours a week, but no more. But they’ll also expect infinite availability so you can’t get a second job,” she said.

Since welfare reform in the 1990s, some states have put more money into child care subsidies, as well as liberalizing Medicaid eligibility so people don’t lose medical benefits as soon as they leave welfare for work. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit reduces income taxes for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples.

In fact, Edin said, welfare reform did initially result in more employment of single mothers in the late 1990s. “We really did a lot of good things to support work,” she said. “The problem is the economy started to work against us, and these things were predicated on the assumption that you could find a full-time employer – which for many Americans now is like chasing a rainbow.”

The Great Recession
Edin said people who have found full-time, full-year work have never been better off. “If you can find that full-time job, we support you more than we did before,” she said. “For those who can’t do that, it is definitely the case that they are worse off than before.”

Most people who don’t work full time do work at some point during the year, Edin said. But they have periods of several months without cash income. “Here in Kentucky, there are counties where there simply are no jobs. They’re ending up in these situations where they literally have no safety net to catch them when they fall.”

In the late 1970s in Kentucky, 90 percent of families with children with no means of support got some sort of cash support from the government, Edin said. Now that figure is 19 percent.

Edin has found that many people in poverty want to work. “When you go to places like eastern Kentucky and you look for them, you find families who are all about work. They have work histories, they’re trying to get work. … I think they’re sort of hanging on to the ragged edge of a low-wage labor market that’s really dissolving within their grasp.”

Living With Almost No Cash
Edin said over past 20 years, government has cut back on cash assistance dramatically. Now less than 800,000 adults across the country are receiving cash assistance. More do get food stamps, and at this time more people are covered by Medicaid. “The irony is, our research suggests that living without cash is actually associated with making you sick,” she said.

In her research, Edin met a 26-year-old young woman who had lived in poverty since age 12. “The first thing you notice about her is she puts her hand in front of her face when she smiles. She has no teeth. She got no regular dental care as a child,” she said. “So you can imagine what this has done in employment situations.” Her health profile, Edin said, is that of a 60 or 70 year old.

People who are extremely poor must be resourceful to survive, collecting rainwater to wash clothes, growing food, and selling plasma, Edin said. “Only in the United States can you give [plasma] up to two times a week,” she said. “All other nations on earth consider this a health risk. Because of this, the U.S. has become the OPEC of plasma. We provide up to 70 percent of the world’s plasma. A lot of this is from the veins of the poor.”

Extreme poverty takes a heavy toll on a person’s physical and mental energy. “It taxes it in such a way that psychologists show it forestalls long term planning. Literally, the energy you’re expending on survival is compromising your future.”

Some people in extreme poverty trade food stamps for cash on black markets. She has also met women who turned to prostitution to get money for food. “This is not what we want to see in America,” she said.

Solutions for Extreme Poverty
Rural poverty is growing faster than urban poverty, Edin said. The largest concentration of extreme, $2-a-day poverty is concentrated in Appalachia and the Deep South, she added.

Edin said her research shows that cash benefits work best to alleviate poverty. She acknowledged that people worry that the poor won’t spend cash wisely, but said her research shows the opposite: People use the extra money from the Earned Income Tax Credit for savings, transportation needs, and debt payoff.

Edin says policy solutions to poverty should focus on three areas:

Supported work: “Supported work, supporting private sector employers to increase their labor force, and bringing services alongside these workers so they can stay in their jobs – employers love this idea because it takes away their risk,” she said. Such a program, Edin said, could make big differences in states with few jobs.

Housing: Edin said a voucher program for housing does better than public housing in terms of giving people more dignity. But landlords, she said, still discriminate against voucher holders, leaving them to find housing in some of the least advantaged neighborhoods, she said. “So we don’t get as much benefit from that program as we could,” she said.

Safety net: Edin believes the Earned Income Tax Credit should be expanded, or, as Schaefer says, families should be offered a guaranteed child allowance. “This is common in many parts of western Europe. That child is a public gift and public good, and we’re going to put a floor under you, a couple hundred dollars a month, you spend it how you see fit. But we wanted to signal to you that we value your role as parent. You need to go out and work to get the income that it takes for the rest of your family to survive, but we’re going to help you with that public good, given the cost of child care and other costs of raising a child.”

Some countries, Edin said, talk about establishing a universal basic income. Canada and Finland have experimented with this because they want more entrepreneurship, she said.

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Connections host Renee Shaw smiling in a gray suit along with the show logo and a "Check Schedule" button.Connections host Renee Shaw smiling in a gray suit along with the show logo and a "Check Schedule" button.

Season 12 Episodes

Kinship Care Activist Katie Okumu

S12 E46 Length 26:27 Premiere Date 08/25/17

Photographer Carol Peachee

S12 E45 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 08/18/17

Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative

S12 E44 Length 28:28 Premiere Date 08/11/17

Sec. Vickie Yates Brown Glisson

S12 E43 Length 29:17 Premiere Date 08/04/17

Criminal Justice Reform

S12 E42 Length 28:08 Premiere Date 07/28/17

Kayla Rae Whitaker

S12 E41 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 07/14/17

Uncovering Bias in Preschool Education

S12 E40 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 07/07/17

The Latest Data on Kentucky's Kids

S12 E39 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 06/30/17

Building Leadership Skills

S12 E38 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 06/23/17

The Ali Center's Donald Lassere

S12 E37 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 06/16/17

Improving Nutrition in the Daily Diet

S12 E36 Length 27:06 Premiere Date 06/09/17

Alzheimer's Disease

S12 E35 Length 28:19 Premiere Date 06/02/17

Innovation at the Alltech Conference

S12 E34 Length 28:33 Premiere Date 05/26/17

Political Journalist Cokie Roberts

S12 E33 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 05/22/17

2017 Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit

S12 E32 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 05/12/17

Alison Lundergan Grimes

S12 E31 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 05/09/17

Sexual Trauma in the Military

S12 E30 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 05/02/17

Foster Care

S12 E29 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 04/24/17

Justice Secretary John Tilley

S12 E23 Length 29:36 Premiere Date 04/14/17

Job Training in Kentucky

S12 E22 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 03/24/17

Kentucky Tourism

S12 E21 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 02/24/17

Reducing Youth Violence

S12 E20 Length 28:21 Premiere Date 02/17/17

State Treasurer Allison Ball

S12 E19 Length 28:51 Premiere Date 02/10/17

Poverty in America

S12 E18 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 02/03/17

Homelessness in Kentucky

S12 E17 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 01/27/17

Sadiqa Reynolds

S12 E16 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 01/20/17

Cory Jewell Jensen

S12 E15 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 01/13/17

Bill Goodman

S12 E14 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 01/06/17

Promoting Health Equity

S12 E13 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 12/16/16

Kentucky's Teacher of the Year

S12 E12 Length 27:22 Premiere Date 12/09/16

Important Issues for Seniors

S12 E11 Length 28:20 Premiere Date 11/18/16

Nonprofit Organizations

S12 E10 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 11/11/16

Iris Wilbur and Colmon Elridge

S12 E9 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 11/04/16

Alzheimer's Disease

S12 E8 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 10/28/16

Activism Through Music and Art

S12 E7 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 10/21/16

Paducah's Merryman House

S12 E6 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 10/14/16

The Achievement Gap

S12 E5 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 10/07/16

Discussing Domestic Violence

S12 E4 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 09/30/16

Musician Jon Secada

S12 E3 Length 29:13 Premiere Date 09/23/16

Playwright Mitzi Sinnott

S12 E2 Length 27:12 Premiere Date 09/15/16

FDA Chief Dr. Robert Califf

S12 E1 Length 26:26 Premiere Date 09/09/16

Smoking Cessation and Pregnancy

Preview Length 29:32 Premiere Date 09/08/17

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Premiered On: 12/15/2017

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Silas House

Premiered On: 01/12/2018

Novelist, activist, and educator Silas House discusses his book to be released later this year that focuses on parenthood, his work as an advocate for environmental and gender equity causes, and other topics.

  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY

DV8 Kitchen

Premiered On: 01/19/2018

Renee visits DV8 Kitchen, a restaurant and bakery in Lexington that provides second chance employment opportunities for people in substance recovery who are trying to redirect their lives. She speaks with Rob and Diane Perez about their vision for the restaurant and its support from the community. Renee also talks with employees at the eatery to hear their stories of recovery and how DV8 Kitchen helps them.

  • Thursday December 29, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Gerald Smith

Premiered On: 02/09/2018

Dr. Gerald Smith, a history professor at the University of Kentucky and co-editor of "The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia", joins Renee to discuss race relations in honor of Black History Month. Topics include activism around removing Confederate statues, the status of black leadership in Kentucky, and Dr. Smith's thoughts on the needed response from the faith-based community in eradicating racism.

  • Friday December 30, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Phil Wilkins - S11 E43

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Tameka Montgomery - S11 E42

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Dayna Seelig - S15 E12

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Dominique Wilkins - S11 E41

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UK President Eli Capilouto - S18 E6

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Gary Tuggle - S11 E40

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Dr. Leana Wen - S11 E39

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Terrence Walton - S11 E38

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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - S11 E37

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Author Emily Bingham - S18 E11

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Kimberly Johnson - S11 E36

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Jason Merrick - S11 E35

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Fayette County Veterans Treatment Court - S11 E34

  • Wednesday November 16, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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Dr. Lynne Saddler - S11 E33

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Scott Hesseltine - S11 E32

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Bill Goodman - Kentucky Humanities - S18 E10

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Jessie Laine Powell - S11 E31

  • Friday November 11, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Oral Health Care In Kentucky - S11 E30

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Kishonna Gray - S11 E29

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Gretchen Hunt - S11 E28

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Dr. Erin Frazier - S11 E27

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Restoring American Democracy - S18 E9

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Crystal Wilkinson - S11 E26

  • Friday November 4, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Thursday November 3, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes - S11 E25

  • Thursday November 3, 2022 2:16 pm ET on KETKY
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Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention - S11 E24

  • Wednesday November 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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A Tribute to Georgia Davis Powers - S11 E18

  • Tuesday November 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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Andrew Brennen - S11 E17

  • Monday October 31, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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Breast Cancer - S18 E8

  • Sunday November 6, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams - S18 E7

  • Sunday October 30, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday October 30, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday October 29, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
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Anthony Smith - S11 E16

  • Friday October 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
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