Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer presented their book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” — which won the 2016 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism and made The New York Times’ list of “100 Notable Books of 2015” — to approximately 600 visitors Tuesday night at Rackham Auditorium, followed by a book signing.
Edin, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, has been conducting research in American poverty for more than 20 years. Shaefer is a professor of social work at the University of Michigan and director of the Poverty Solutions initiative, which seeks strategies to prevent and alleviate poverty.
The book tells stories of real people who live on $2 per day, depicting their poor living conditions. Shaefer described the book revealing the effects of changing public policy on families, looking specifically to low-wage work and affordable housing.
According to Shaefer, the most meaningful part of writing the book was the opportunity to meet people and go places he had never seen before. He pointed out how stratified and separated today’s society is.
“In many ways, we are disconnected, those with means and those without,” Shaefer said. “It is almost like we are living parallel lives. We are in the same places, but never in the same spaces.”
Currently the authors are working with filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn to turn the book into a documentary. They showed her the places they had visited themselves while working in the field.
“This has been such a remarkable experience because we have just happened in on situation after situation that just amplify the themes of ‘$2 a day,’ ” Edin said.
The authors also spoke during the event about the story of a woman they only recently met during the filming process.
The woman, whose name was not given, was waiting for a local food pantry to be opened with two other men, as she had not eaten in four days, only to be turned down by the food bank for not having a mailing address.
Toward the end of the event, the authors stressed the need for action to be taken.
“Whatever those things are that we do, it is maybe not so much what you do, as how you do it,” Shaefer said.
Shannon Powers, a University alum who now works at the Chelsea District Library, initially read the book as part of the Washtenaw Reads Planning Committee.
“It was so informative, but in a great way,” Powers said. “It was very narrative … so you were able to raise awareness and reach a larger audience as it was accessible to the average person.”
Kathy Daly, an Ann Arbor resident, said she appreciates how the book is so far-reaching, and added that she finds it groundbreaking.
“It’s sort of low-key as it recounts stories of how people are trying to survive,” Daly said. “At the same time, because it is low-key, it is infinitely profound.”