H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan and co-author of acclaimed book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” spoke to University students and faculty Tuesday afternoon about the stratification of the poor in the United States and the challenges faced by the extremely impoverished.
The event, hosted by the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, was meant to teach attendees about ISR and the repercussions of living below the poverty line.
According to Shaefer, since 1996, there has been a steady rise in the number of households with children living in extreme poverty. Furthermore, while the 2000s saw an increase in the number of children on public health care, those at the very bottom of the income ladder were still slipping through the cracks.
Rackham student Lanora Johnson, who is pursuing a doctorate in sociology, said she attended the talk to learn about the research being done on low-income households. She also said she feels it is important to convey the complex topic of poverty in terms of data and facts to reach a wider audience.
“It’s also good to hear…that it is something that is cared about in a place that seems in a lot of visual ways very removed from (this) kind of background,” Johnson said.
To gather information and further context for his work, Shaefer ventured into low-income neighborhoods to see firsthand how poor socioeconomic status affects the people living there. He described how this level of work led him to experiences that data often does not show.
“You encounter things that aren’t really visible,” he said. “There’s a lot that data misses…and it explains what the families are going through.”
He told a story of one such family from Birmingham, Alabama who endured hardships and legal red tape in their search for a suitable home to settle down. The mother was forced to uproot her family when her sons were put in danger due to the violence in their neighborhood.
Through a whirlwind of unfortunate events including being turned away multiple times from a shelter in Tennessee where she was promised a room, her children were taken into the welfare system against her wishes. She is now fighting to get them back.
Shaefer explained the mother got a job and worked 30 to 35 hours a week, only to receive a paycheck hundreds of dollars less than she expected. The Tennessee state government had taken some of it to pay for the child support and had also charged her a 12 percent interest rate.
Because of this unexpected government fee, she was forced to support her family on under $2 a day.
Many of the attendees said they hoped to expand their own perspectives on the matter by listening to Shaefer's research.
Nayanika Sanga, a research assistant for the Institute for Social Research, said she has experience living in lower income communities and wanted to gain more insight into the culture of poverty in America.
“I want to see if there’s a public health aspect to (the research),” she said. “(I came to) discover a new perspective that I haven’t had before.”