United we READ, United we LIVE Discussion Guide

Community Book Read

$2.00 A DAY, Living on Almost Nothing in America

United Way of Northwest Arkansas is inviting you to join us in the United we Read, United we Live Community Book Read. Throughout this summer members of our community will be engaging with us through reading the book $2.00 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer. A revelatory account of poverty in America so deep that we, as a country, don’t think it exists.

$2.00 A Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America is a follows several compelling profiles of families who live on just that, $2.00 a day.  Also, a discussion guide is available to those interested in participating in the read. Luke Shaefer, one of the authors will be coming in to Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday, August 30 for an Author Event & Discussion from 6:00 – 7:30pm with the location still to be announced.

Book                $2.00 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin, Luke Shaefer. A revelatory account of poverty in America so deep that we, as a country, don’t think it exists.

Purpose           Engage individuals from all sectors including government, business, education, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits to educate themselves on the issue of poverty through a meaningful dialogue on the impact poverty has on our community.

Participants     Anyone interested in engaging more deeply in the NWA community.

Timeframe      June 2016 – August 2016

Author Events

Author Event & Discussion

Tuesday, August 30, 6:00 – 7:30pm

Open to the Public (Arts Center of The Ozarks: 214 S. Main Street, Springdale, AR 72764)

Sponsored by Bank of America

Christina Hinds , Vice President Resource Development  


       Office |  (479)750-1221

Direct Line | (479)303-4410

Cell | (479)841-5444


   Denise Ratcliff, Resource Development Director 


Office |  (479)750-1221

  Direct Line | (479) 303-4416

Cell | (479) 685-3721


This guide is a resource for groups interested in discussing the themes presented in $2.00 a Day. It might be useful as you read the book, discuss it in a classroom, or participate in a broader community conversation. Included are two options: a shorter set of questions designed for about 30 – 40 minutes of discussion, and a longer set for a more robust dialogue.

Feel free to use the questions you like and discard or change others. If you develop your own questions and are willing to share, we would love to hear from you


1) Despite the abuse and the trauma the $2 a day poor are often subjected to, the families profiled in this book find joy, hope, and a sense of perseverance through their children. During difficult times, what or who has given you the strength to move on?

2) After getting to know all of the families in the book, to whom do you relate the most? With whom would you want to have dinner or coffee?

3) Do you think the federal government should play a more substantive role in creating and improving the quality of jobs than it currently does?

4) What are your thoughts on implementing a jobs program with support services? Given the unique obstacles that the $2 a day poor face on a daily basis, do you think the provision of support services such as mental health counseling, child care resources, and legal advocacy can help families like those profiled in this book find and maintain jobs?

5) Work opportunities for people who have physical limitations but don’t qualify for disability benefits are limited. As such, people like Martha find themselves joining the informal economy. Other than the small business incubator idea suggested by the authors, what are other creative ways to incorporate people like Martha into the formal economy?

6) Finding affordable housing has become increasingly difficult in the United States. The authors propose increasing the minimum wage and expanding government housing subsidies as ways to help poor families close the gap between income and rent. Do agree with the potential effectiveness of these policy prescriptions? Do you suggest any other policies that can help close the gap between income and rent?

7) Do you think we need a program that can provide a cash cushion for families in cases when work fails? How should this program work? Should we reform TANF, or create a new program?

8) In the end, Edin and Shaefer think social inclusion/social incorporation should be the guiding principle of aid to families who are poor. Why do they think this is so important, and do you agree.


1) Why is it that although as a country we are spending more on aid for the poor, Edin and Shaefer find that the level of extreme poverty has risen in the last decade?

2) Why do so many Americans dislike programs labeled as welfare?

3) If you were put in charge of creating a government system of aid for families like Modonna’s in Chapter 1, what would it look like?

4) If Modonna or Susan Brown in Chapter 1 was put in charge of creating a government system of aid for families in need, what do you think it might look like?

5) Edin and Shaefer argue in Chapter 2 that one of the reasons why subcontractors like Chicago City often pinch their workers is because in order to get contracts, they have to keep their costs incredibly low.

  1. What do you think about Debra’s position as a small business owner?
  2. If we did something to help small businesses like Chicago City, how do you think it would affect someone in Jennifer’s position?

6) In Chapter 2, Susan and Jennifer’s job searches were likely hindered by the color of their skin. Have you ever felt that your appearance hurt your chances of getting a job or a promotion? What was that like?

7) Also in Chapter 2, why did Rae like going to work so much? Have you ever felt like work was an “escape” from something else?

8) If Jennifer or Rae was put in charge of creating government rules to improve conditions for low-wage workers what would these policies look like? If you were put in charge of creating government rules to improve conditions for low wage workers what would these policies look like

9) Have you ever had a job where you were asked to work extra or cover someone else’s shifted but did not receive extra compensation? Whether yes or no, imagine yourself in this position, what would you do? How would it make you feel about your job?

10) Given Rae’s mental and physical ailments discussed in Chapter 3, she may qualify for SSI (Social Security Supplemental Income). In this chapter, she says she won’t apply because she wants to support herself and her child and because she feels her father (who passed away) would be disappointed. Given her situation, do you think she should apply? If you were in her shoes, would you apply?

11) If your family had to depend on someone else to pay rent, put food on the table, go/stay in school, or start a business, where would you turn?

12) Did the information about the prevalence of adverse childhood events (ACEs) among Americans, such as physical and sexual abuse, surprise you? Why or why not? Without necessarily revealing their name, has anyone close to you or you yourself had such experiences? How have those affected this person’s life?

13) What types of principles do you think should guide action—either by government or private charity—to try to improve housing options for families with low-incomes and especially in $2-a-day poverty?

14) Which of the survival strategies described in this book would you utilize first if you felt like you had no other options? Which would you utilize last?

15) As you think about the strategies for help described in Chapter 4, what are some of the risks that come with each of the strategies?

16) What does this book tell you about the existence of racism in the 21st Century? Were there things that surprised you in this regard?