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Could you live on $2 a day?

Could you live on $2 a day, with no help at all?

This is the case for a growing number of American families with children, according to a new policy brief from the National Poverty Center. More Americans with children are living in extreme poverty at the same time their access to public assistance is disappearing.

Long bouts of unemployment, in the wake of the “Great Recession,” have caused many adults to lose access to cash-assistance programs that are time-limited and require participation in work activities. However, the report says, in-kind benefits such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) have helped mitigate some of the stresses of poverty in households with kids.

So what about Nebraska? In looking at data in recent years, it becomes clear that our state’s cash benefit program – Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) – isn’t keeping pace with the number of children living in extreme poverty.

The chart below compares the number of Nebraska children who are living on less that 50% of the Federal Poverty Level (so less than $11,525 per year for a family of four), with the number of children receiving ADC benefits. Obvious gaps emerge each year, most notably in 2010. We use 50% of FPL as an approximation for “extreme poverty” which is defined by some as less than $2 per day.  While the measure we use is nearly $8 per day per person for a family of 4, we still think that it is an extreme circumstance for anyone, let alone children, to be living in here in Nebraska.


Programs like SNAP help. The report’s analysis indicate that when SNAP benefits are counted as dollars, the number of households with children in extreme poverty decreases by about half.

“However, it would be wrong to conclude that the U.S. safety net is strong, or even adequate, when one in five poor households with children are living without meaningful cash income,” said the report.

We can turn this trend around by pushing for policies that increase access to education and help lower income families work and build savings and ownership.

Extreme Poverty Chart (1)

Sources: Children in extreme poverty data are from U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table B17024. ADC numbers are from Financial Services, Operations, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Note: Poverty numbers are based on calendar year, while ADC numbers use state fiscal year.


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