Sharon, Tamara, and Living on $2 a Day


February 18, 2016

Back in December we hosted a webinar featuring Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer, the authors of $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, as well as a panel of experts on poverty: Sharon and Tamara, who have experienced abject poverty first-hand and survived to share their tale; and Kate Scully, policy director for the Center for Hunger Free Communities.
The webinar was co-sponsored by our allies Children’s Leadership Council, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), National Women’s Law Center and MomsRising.

Although approximately 1,000 human needs advocates signed up for the webinar (despite it being three days before Christmas!) we still believe that the stories it covered deserve further amplification and distribution – particularly the stories shared by Sharon and Tamara. So, today we’re going to amplify and distribute!

Sharon was laid off in 2009, part of a huge wave of lay-offs resulting from the onset of the 2008 recession. “It was all kind of a surprise to me,” Sharon recalls. “I’d never had trouble finding a job before. You got to the point where you are so distraught…just putting things together. Just trying to put one foot in front of the other and going to a job interview.”

For Sharon, things went from bad to worse, especially when money ran out and she became homeless. “I called 2-1-1, which if anyone knows I guess that’s the little number you call if you are in dire straits. They actually advised me on how to live in my car. I did that for 40 days. I did that with nothing….Once you’re homeless you don’t know what to do. You’re in your car. I thought about getting a job, but I didn’t have an address and I didn’t have a phone. Eventually after 40 days I got my car towed. I couldn’t afford the $168. They were nice enough to let me get some stuff out.”

Tamara, who lived in Boston like Sharon, but has now moved to New York, was a teenage mother who lived in a homeless shelter, attended college and held down a job. “I did what I could,” Tamara explains. “But it was hard because I had to put food on the table…try to balance being a single mom, taking care of a little one, going to school and working at the same time is just so hard.”

Tamara received benefits, an experience she said “was kind of humiliating, in a sense, because people would look at me kind of differently when they found out I received benefits. And it wasn’t because I wanted to, but it was because I had to. I had no other way to get food, I had no other way to pay the rent while I was trying to go to school. And I quit school to not have to be on benefits. But that wasn’t even enough….We came to New York and I’m here now trying to find a better life for my family but we’re still struggling.”

Sharon and Tamara are part of the reason why President Obama’s budget pledges to end homelessness by the year 2020 – and why we must step up our efforts to confront poverty and its related symptoms. And $2 a Day co-author Kathryn Kathryn J. Edin says as extraordinary as these two people are, they actually have much in common with the several million Americans who today survive on $2 or less.

“You know, Sharon and Tamara are clearly completely extraordinary women,” Kathryn says. “But they are completely typical of the people we interviewed. They are American to the core. They hate handouts. They espouse Main Street values. They want more than anything to work. And I think what’s been unfortunate and I think maybe even insidious about the discourse in America is the assumption that the poor are ‘other,’ that they’re not really American, and I think Sharon’s and Tamara’s stories show they are American to the core.”

You can listen to the Coalition’s webinar here, and you can order $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America here.

Budget and Appropriations
child nutrition
child poverty
Housing and Homelessness
minimum wage
Poverty and Income
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families