Kathryn Edin

April 5, 2019

“We eviscerated the safety net for the truly, categorically needy.”

Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, who works in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family, and life, through direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income populations. We discuss the evisceration of welfare, the rise of destitution, and the absolute necessity of cash in an advanced capitalist society.

The end of welfare 

Welfare ceased being guaranteed after reform in 1996. Although the safety net for the working class was strengthened through tax credits, the safety net for those who are jobless disappeared. In its current state, the welfare system is overwhelming and underfunded. States are given block grants that they can spend at their discretion. For example, Louisiana spends its money on anti-abortion clinics. As a result, over the course of a year, about 3.5 million children live in households with virtually no cash income for at least 3 months.

Cash is king 

Cash has the ultimate function: it can be used to pay rent, utilities, food, school supplies, and more. Although food stamps (SNAP) and Medicaid help needy families, these cashless forms of assistance cannot address other necessities in life. Access to cash can be pivotal to keeping a job – to fill your car with gas so you can go to work – or a roof over your head while you look for a new job after being downsized.

The poor are true Americans

America’s poor are the very embodiment of American ideals. Living in poverty is incredibly complex, a daily challenge to which the poor rise. They take pride in their work and find purpose at the workplace. They are hard-working, resourceful, and enterprising. Poor families spend their money wisely to keep their children fed and sheltered, and they stretch every dollar to make ends meet. 

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Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, working in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family, life, and neighborhood contexts through direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income populations. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work, such as how do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work?

She has authored 8 books and some 60 journal articles. $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtutally Nothing in America, co-authored with Luke Shaefer, was met with wide critical acclaim. It was included in the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2015, cited as “essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.”