Chicago - Dec. 15, 2017
Music TV Politics Sports Books People Places & Things
 
Beachwood Books
Our monthly books archive.
Beachwood BookLinks
Book TV
NY Review of Books
London Review of Books
Arts & Letters Daily
American Reader Campaign
Quimblog
Myopic
U of C Press Blog
Devil's Due
LitLine
NYT Books
Normal Words
New Yorker Books
IndieBound
2nd Story
Chicago Zine Fest

$2 A Day In Chicago

"The opening chapter of $2.00 a Day describes a Chicago mother whom the authors call Modonna Harris," Christopher Jencks writes in the New York Review of Books.

"Harris graduated from high school and then took out loans to attend a private university. However, she got no financial help from her divorced parents, and when she hit her student loan ceiling at the end of her second year, she dropped out. Misadventures in love followed, and after her marriage broke up she had a child to support. The best job she could find was as a cashier, but after eight years her employer fired her because her cash drawer was $10 short. The store eventually found the missing $10, but it did not rehire Harris.

"Harris looked for new jobs, without success. After her unemployment benefits ran out, a friend noticed that Harris had no food in her apartment for herself or her child and persuaded her to apply for TANF. The welfare office opened at 8:30 a.m., so Harris showed up at 8. At least on that particular day, however, there were only enough appointment slots for applicants who had joined the line in the rain outside the welfare office before 7:30. After waiting most of the day, Harris left without having been given a chance to apply, convinced that TANF would never help her.

"It is tempting to say that Harris was too easily discouraged. However, it is also tempting to say that in Illinois, as in most other states, TANF's primary goal is not to protect children whose parents cannot find work by ensuring that their family has shelter, heat, light, food, and shoes, but to cut program costs by reducing the number of recipients. (California, which now accounts for a third of all TANF recipients, is a partial exception to this rule.)

"State efforts to cut the TANF rolls have been quite effective. The overall unemployment rate, which is a fairly good proxy for how hard it is to find work, was almost twice as high in 2009 as in 1996. Yet the number of families getting TANF in 2009 was less than half the number getting AFDC in 1996."

*

What happened in 1996? Bill Clinton's welfare reform, also known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.

"Until 1996 single mothers with no income were eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. [Authors] Edin and Shaefer argue that extreme poverty rose after 1996 because Congress replaced AFDC with an even less generous welfare program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Because TANF benefits are much harder to get than AFDC benefits were, parents who cannot find a job are more likely to find themselves penniless."

*

"One basic goal of welfare reform in the 1990s was to 'make work pay,' and the Clinton administration created a new system that did just that. Instead of giving parents more help when they could not find work, the new system gives parents more help when they find and keep a steady low-wage job. When Modonna Harris worked as a cashier, Edin and Shaefer estimate that her take-home pay was about $1,325 a month. The government topped that up with another $160 a month in food stamps.

"The Clinton administration also persuaded Congress to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit between 1993 and 1996, so when Harris was working she got a check from the US Treasury for about $3,800 a few weeks after filing her federal tax return. That check provided her with an additional $317 a month. Overall, the government supplemented Harris's paycheck with benefits worth $477 a month. Once she lost her job, she stopped accumulating EITC benefits. Her food stamp benefits rose from $160 to $367 a month, but she was still getting $110 a month less than she had from food stamps and the EITC when she had a monthly paycheck."

*

From a book excerpt via WBUR:

"It is only 8:00 a.m., half an hour ahead of opening time, but already a long line has formed outside the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) office, which sits on a barren block west of Chicago's Loop. It is a wet summer morning, one of those odd times when the rain is falling but the sun still shines. People are hunkered down, some shielding themselves from the rain with umbrellas or hoods, others holding sodden newspapers and thin plastic grocery bags over their heads. This two-story, yellow-brick office building- windowless on the first floor - is where those seeking help come to apply for programs such as SNAP and Medicaid. But traditionally it has been linked most closely to the nation's now nearly moribund cash assistance program, what many refer to as welfare.

"Modonna Harris shuffles to the end of the line. A friend, noticing that Modonna had no food in her tiny apartment, convinced her to make the trip. She and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Brianna, have been living in a North Side homeless shelter during this summer of 2012. The shelter provides dinner during the week, and Brianna gets breakfast and lunch through a local nonprofit recreation program, but Modonna and Brianna often go hungry on weekends. The shelter's residents can usually count on a 'guy who drops off some surplus food' from an unknown source, but recently all he's brought is nasty-smelling milk well beyond its expiration date.

"When asked why she hasn't applied for welfare, Modonna shrugs. Actually, it hasn't even occurred to her. She explains, 'I've been through this before, and I've been turned down . . . They did send me a letter. But they just say, You're not eligible, they don't explain why.'

"How could she not be eligible, she wondered, without even one cent in cash income and a child to provide for? Her aunt's explanation is simple: Hasn't she heard? They just aren't giving it out anymore. To Modonna, that seemed as good an answer as any.

"'I don't actually know anybody who is getting it. And, you know, when my auntie was saying that, I'm thinking, Okay, well maybe that's making sense of why I didn't get it' . . . I'm like, Okay, maybe that's it.'

"Despite her now desperate circumstances, Modonna was deeply reluctant even to go to the DHS office and apply for the cash welfare program. Finally, after much persuasion, she relented."

Click through for the rest.

*

Edin's dissertation at Northwestern: "There's A Lot Of Month Left At The End Of The Money: How Welfare Recipients In Chicago Make Ends Meet."

-

Previously in Kathryn Edin:

* From "Who Turned My Blue State Red?:"

"Meanwhile, researchers such as Kathryn Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, have pinpointed a tendency by Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder - the working or lower-middle class - to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided.

"'There's this virulent social distancing - suddenly, you're a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,' said Edin. 'They're playing to the middle fifth and saying, I'm not those people.'"

* From PBS NewsHour via Midland Awards | Galileo's Middle Finger, Brain Ghosts & Stonewall:

-

Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on May 24, 2016


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Trailer: Swing District.
SPORTS - Ryan Pace's Narratives Are Killing Us.

BOOKS - Chicago For Dummies.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


Search The Beachwood Reporter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Email:

Follow BeachwoodReport on Twitter



Beachwood Radio!


Ask Me Anything!