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Authors Discuss Extreme Poverty At HKS Talk

Authors of the book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” called for the creation of public sector jobs at the lowest levels of the economy and shared their insights on extreme poverty in America at the Kennedy School on Tuesday.

Co-authors Kathryn J. Edin, professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, and H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor of social work and public policy at the University of Michigan, shared anecdotes regarding the motivations of Americans at the poorest end of the economic spectrum to perform activities including trading food stamps, selling plasma, and trading sexual services.

Edin, who taught a course titled “Poverty and Social Policy” at the Kennedy School in 2010, mentioned her interest in returning to speak.

“The Kennedy School is full of world-changers, and when we organized our book tour, we needed this to be a spot. If you tell the Kennedy school audience something, it’s going to filter out,” Edin said.

David T. Ellwood ’75, a professor of political economy at the Kennedy School and one of the moderators of the event, praised the book for its portrayal of poverty in America. “In books like this, and this book in particular, it gives you a sense of how hard it is to be poor and how very smart you have to be to survive if you’re poor,” Ellwood said.

Members of the audience expressed their interest in learning more about poverty at the extreme end of the economic spectrum.

“In my academic career I’ve always been interested in research on poverty,” said Jessica H. Su, an assistant professor of sociology at SUNY Buffalo who attended the book talk. “I think they have uncovered a really important segment of the population that’s persistently poor and I really wanted to hear them talk about it.”

The audience at the event was comprised mostly of faculty and graduate students at the Kennedy School and other schools in the Boston area. The discussion was part of the Inequality Seminar Series sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy at the Kennedy School. The next lecture in the series will be given by John H. Laub, former director of the National Institute of Justice.

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