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Here are some discussion questions from to get you started:

Chapter 1: Welfare is Dead

  1. Is there a person you can relate to most in this chapter, either Modonna or any of the people included in the history of welfare policy? What is it about them that you can relate to?
  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 what would it look like?

Chapter 2: Perilous Work

  1. Have you experienced unsafe work conditions, or had a job that made you ill?
  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?
  3. If you were put in charge of creating government rules to improve conditions for low- wage workers what would these policies look like?

Chapter 3: A Room of One’s Own

  1. Have you ever had a job where you were asked to work extra or cover someone else’s shift 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?
  2. If you had to change places with Jennifer or Rae at the end of the story, who would it be and why?
  3. 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?

Chapter 4: By Any Means Necessary

  1. 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?
  2. Has utilizing public spaces such as parks and libraries played a significant role in helping support your family (not necessarily financially but rather by providing children and families with experiences they otherwise they may not have had)?
  3. How should we think about the work effort of people like Jessica Compton, Jennifer Hernandez, or Paul Heckewelder as described in this chapter? What words would you use to describe their effort?

Chapter 5: A World Apart

  1. Given the dominant agricultural economy in the deep south, how has 1) history and 2) technological advancements shaped the work opportunities available to poor adults in this region?
  2. What are the biggest barriers that someone like Tabitha faces in her life? What do you think she would need in order to get to college like she wants to?
  3. Teachers like Mr. Patten can play an integral role in the lives of children, especially those who are poor. If not for Mr. Patten helping Tabitha apply for a scholarship to a boarding school, she may still find herself homeless. Yet, teachers and administrators often find themselves restrained by a lack of resources, especially in places where it is common for children to go hungry. Should we do more to help teachers combat poverty? If so, what should we do?

Conclusion: Where, Then, from Here?

  1. After getting to know all of the families in the book, to whom do you relate the most? Whom would you want to have dinner or coffee with?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?

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