$2-a-Day Poverty

by Carla Cox, Programs Director at United Against Poverty

Defining what poverty means can be a challenge. Some base their definition on a stage in life, such as lack of housing; others base it on household income. But what most can agree on is that the definition is complicated. At United Against Poverty, we follow the Federal Poverty Guideline (FPG) which is an algorithm stating that your household income should be enough to afford housing, food and clothing, healthcare, transportation, and childcare at a figure of 100%.

Currently, 15% of Orange County residents are falling below 100% FPG. An additional 29% people are living below 200%, this group is frequently referred to as the “working poor”. The programs at United Against Poverty are accessible to anyone whose income is below 200%, totaling 593,549 individuals in Orange County.

Recently, research has been publish to indicate that another group is needing attention, one in which we define poverty on a global level, but until recently did not measure in the United States. This is an estimated 3-5% of families living on less than $2-a-day. In their book $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Edin and Shaefer spent a year meeting families in five cities to learn and share their stories.

They concluded that since welfare reform in the 1990’s this population has increased as there is no government safety net to catch them. And while government assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, better known as Food Stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Section-8 Housing are widely used, access to cash is something that families just can’t seem to come by.

While there are many theories on why this $2-a-day population exists and how we can help, the answers all seem to point to better employment opportunities. In their research, Edin and Shaefer found most of their study participants are eager to work with the goal of affording a modest living that is safe and reliable for their family. However, “service sector employers often engage in practices that middle-class professionals would never accept. They adopt policies, that, purposely or not, ensure regular turnover among their low wage workers, thus cursing the costs that come with a more stable workforce, including guaranteed hours, benefits, raises, promotions, and the like.” (page 45) This instability causes employment to be a revolving door for the $2-a-day poor leading to hardship on both the family as well as the employer in the long run.

In the Success Training Employment Program, we see students who fall into this $2-a-day classification who are striving, like many in Edin and Shaefer’s book, to find better employment opportunities. We are proud to work with employer partners who are committed to providing guaranteed hours, employee benefits, as well as growth opportunities to make Central Florida a stronger community. Together, we are ensuring our neighbors in need are no longer defined by $2-a-day or by 100%, but are able to increase their income above 200%.