Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Deserving attention: the 1 percent we don’t talk about, but should

In the rancorous beginning to the 2016 presidential campaign we hear about the top 1 percent in the country. Economist Thomas Piketty has warned us we may well be “on the road to not just a highly unequal society, but to a society of oligarchy.” There has been debate how we shrink the income inequality in the United States.

Jim Scheibel

I hope that the bottom 1 percent get their share of the attention in the new year. In 2014 the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent. There were 46.7 million people in poverty. For a family of three in the U.S., it worked out to about $16.50 per person per day.

“Deep poverty” is set at half the poverty line, or about $8.60 per person per day. One in 20 Americans live on an income that is at 50 percent of the poverty line, and nearly 16 million Americans still fall below that 50 percent of poverty line. Perhaps most disturbing is that the number of people living on $2 per day has increased substantially in the last 15 years.

Living on $2 per day

In “$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer introduce us to the 1 percent we should be talking about, those people who are living on $2 per person per day. The number of American families living on $2 per person per day has skyrocketed to 1½ million American households, including 3 million children.

This is a disgrace. The stories Edin and Shaefer share are heartbreaking, and should serve as a call to action for all of us. We need to acknowledge that in ending welfare as we knew it we also eliminated the safety net.

Both parties appear to be ignoring citizens who need their attention the most — those in deep poverty. William Julius Wilson told The New York TimesEduardo Porter, “this should be a major issue; unfortunately nobody has organized those people.”

Let’s build a strategy

There is plenty of space for bipartisan effort against poverty. Let’s debate what kind of safety we need. Let’s build a strategy to end poverty. Let’s heed the words of Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation: “Generosity is no longer enough. We should seek to bring out lasting systemic change.”

Let’s talk about this 1 percent. What we say can become what we do.

Jim Scheibel, a former mayor of St. Paul, is Professor of Practice in the Management, Marketing and Public Administration Department, Hamline University. He is a former director of both AmeriCorps VISTA and the Senior Corps. 


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 01/07/2016 - 10:09 am.

    Who’s living at that level? There are 70 some programs set up for folks who can’t get a job. The programs include housing, phones, heating assistance, food, transportation and healthcare. 46 million Americans are on one or all of these programs. Who is living on 2 bucks a day??

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/07/2016 - 12:53 pm.


      3 million Americans. I would guess that many of these people are precluded from receiving any assistance due to disability, incarceration or former incarceration of adult(s) in the household (which can also lead to significant inability to get gainful employment), and an environment of social ignorance and/or hatred. After all, even though you were given numbers, you still asked who is living on 2 bucks a day. I suspect you weren’t asking for a list of names, but expressing disbelief that such a claim is even true.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 01/07/2016 - 02:48 pm.

        Yes, I don’t for a minute believe, with todays safety nets in place, anyone with 1 ounce of ambition can’t walk, take the bus, hitch hike to a location where people are employed to get them signed up to one of the many many programs this country offers to folks down on their luck. This includes former incarcerated folks, disabled folks and even folks facing social ignorance and/or hatred, believe it or not… If you don’t want to live on 2 bucks a day in the USA you do not have to. Over 46 million folks are on some form of assistance, who are these 3 million that don’t qualify and are living of 2 bucks???

        • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/07/2016 - 07:27 pm.

          Some Among Us

          Clearly need to get assistance to heal the traumas they suffered in their earlier lives,…

          which left them with pieces of their personalities missing,…

          and left them suffering from dysfunctions which force them to create an alternate reality bubble in which to live,…

          said bubble making it impossible for them to allow to enter their awareness anything that contradicts what they believe to be true.

          Without healing, such folk cannot be educated to see reality,…

          are are only enraged at those making the effort,…

          as well as being enraged that people in legitimate need through no fault of their own,…

          even exist.

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/08/2016 - 01:57 pm.


          If you want to prove yourself right, go ahead and do so. Plant yourself in some tiny town without a car (lots of the truly poor live in rural areas). Or in Brooklyn Center without a car and a resume that shows a giant gap in which you were likely in jail, and check that box that says you were convicted of felony. If you can’t get to the places that provide assistance, you can’t get assistance. Given the hours many of the places that provide assistance are open, the hours you have to wait (yep, worse than getting customer service from Comcast), and the fact that both are incompatible with a job that won’t give you time off, you can either work or you can live off assistance, not both. Not that you could do both–most of the assistance cutoffs are designed to make sure you either work OR you get assistance, and most poverty level jobs make sure you can’t afford to live off just one full time (equivalent) job.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 01/08/2016 - 04:46 pm.


            As I have been saying, no one says that being a poor out of work felon is what we strive for. What I am saying is even the poor, out of work felon qualifies for Govt assistance. He may have to wait in a line or be inconvenienced by bad employees (DMV style) but he will receive one of the many programs set up to help him.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/11/2016 - 12:48 pm.

              No one strives to be an out of work felon. But don’t pretend that they don’t exist or that they don’t deserve a fair chance to get back on their feet and be part of working society. Many of them don’t qualify for anything and it becomes a matter of living off of someone else’s welfare check because they are neither employable nor deserving for assistance (in enough peoples’ minds). It’s not a matter of waiting in line for a program. If your crime is drug related, you’re SOL.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/07/2016 - 02:43 pm.

    Thank you

    … Ms. Kahler. No need to go to the 3rd world to find people living on scraps and in hovels. Also, obviously no need to go to Monte Carlo to find people oblivious to the situation of many of their brethren. The Golden Rule, Mr. Smith… the Golden Rule. In case you claim to be Christian, it’s useful to remember that Jesus spent his last years as a pauper…

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/07/2016 - 04:55 pm.


      I too am skeptical. My understanding is that people holding signs at stoplights can clear more than $2 per day. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask where and how these people are living and surviving. So, rather than taking it on blind faith, I ask: where and how are people living on $2 per day in the US?

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/08/2016 - 02:01 pm.

        Many poor

        You’re assuming that the vast majority of poor people are the ones YOU see. A lot of poor people live in rural areas–not a lot of cars to beg from at any intersections. Many of the poor are elderly or disabled. Or children. The faces of the desperately poor aren’t the ones you see. They’re the ones hidden in deep corners and recesses.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 01/07/2016 - 03:39 pm.

    Ray, what does Jesus have to do with folks signing up for assistance? I will say it again, unless it is your choice, you do not have to live off 2 bucks a day. It tugs at the heart strings and is great to lament about how the evil 1% treat the poor, but I don’t believe in America we ask anyone to live off 2 dollars. Treating others how you would like to be treated is what the “safety net” for unfortunate folks is all about. Remember Jesus also said there will always be the poor to worry about as he washed in oils before his crucifixion. America takes better care of it poor than any other country.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/07/2016 - 09:14 pm.

      Rubber meets the road?

      Lets try a couple of places that understand the (possible/probable) $2 scenario:
      As the quote goes” we are entitled to our own opinion but not our own facts”

      What some would call “experts” on the topic:
      Sharing and caring Hands: 612-338-4640, (Ask for Mary)
      Salvation Army: (612) 767-3100
      St, Stephens: 612-874-0311

      Drive by River of Life Lutheran Church near every day: Yes, we see the lights on in the Gymnasium every night November to April. You know why? These folks probably don’t even have the $2.
      2200 Fremont Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55411
      Phone:(612) 521-7655

      Since we live in the inner-inner city, our opinion would be considered shaded, not expert.

      Perhaps there is a preference to: Joint Heirs With Christ Faith, 2123 N 29th Ave, they provide free meals 3-4-5 times a week? Or perhaps St Olaf Lutheran ELCA Church, Address: 2901 Emerson Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55411
      Phone:(612) 529-7726 Talk to Dale Hulme, ask him how many free meals they provide, and inquire about the $2.

      Just because we don’t see it or it doesn’t fit into your lexicon doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening in our environment, or it isn’t real!
      Please let us know if additional contacts are required.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 01/08/2016 - 08:06 am.

        I believe you are talking about homeless street people, I agree that these folks live on nothing but the facts are anyone of them could get help if they wanted. I wasn’t even mentioning all the different homeless shelters who help out folks who live on the street, so thank you for adding them to the list of services we provide for the poor. If any one of those poor homeless people went to a state welfare office they would get a food card, qualify for housing aid and not be living off 2 bucks with the 1st visit. Unfortunately street people don’t want help but it is there for them, you can’t help folks who do not want it.
        Again, I stand by in America if you want help there are many programs set up to help you. If you choose not to seek that help no one can help you. So if the author was saying we have a whole group of mentally ill folks living under bridges and in the streets, I agree. That is a whole different story than claiming we have 3 million people who we as Americans refuse to help, that is simply not true. The evil rich 1% and all the other tax payers give billions to help the less fortunate through welfare. Not nearly as good of a story as Americans are screwing you, really can’t feed the class warfare narrative with that story.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/10/2016 - 01:59 pm.

          Not talking, philosophising:

          Anyone could get help if they wanted? Sounds like blaming poor people for being poor, like they could all be Bill Gates if they wanted! So homeless folks aren’t considered poor? And all street people want to be there, especially at 8 below zero? So the number is 3 Mil +/- a couple hundred thousand, changing daily, do we really need an empirically perfect number to address a situation?

          Where did the evil rich, class warfare come from? The question posed was consideration for the less well to do. Seems the response was, their fine and eating cake.

          PS: The statistics sited in a lower link have 10 different versions/views on how to see poverty ranging from ~ 5% to less than 1%. Choosing the one that best fits our lexicon is not addressing the situation, may however soothe the soul.

          PSS: The founders set this as a goal in the preamble: seems folks would wish those parts of the (constitution) would go go away: “establishing Justice, promoting domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, for our selves and our posterity” Not easy stuff.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 01/13/2016 - 06:16 pm.

            If you are mentally ill living off the street you don’t look for help. I am talking about anyone who is making 2 bucks a day and goes to a welfare office will not be living off 2 bucks a day after 1 visit. What does that have to do with blaming the poor for being poor, please brush up on your talking points.

  4. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/07/2016 - 10:51 pm.

    So, Jim….

    Let’s talk in microcosm about this 1 percent. Statistics are not examples. Please say the words that can become what we do.

    Many of us would truly like to hear what you have to say, not necessarily what Edin and Shaefer have to write. You are the local guy with a platform.


  5. Submitted by Deborah Moses on 01/08/2016 - 08:55 am.

    who are the 1%

    There are many reasons someone is in the lowest one percent but often they are young men of color who are not eligible for most services and are not being hired for jobs. I know often that people would like to blame them ie why aren’t they in college or why can’t they get a job. Minnesota in particular has a long track record of discrimination in hiring and there is nothing to suggest this is going to change. As far as college, keep in mind our K-12 system has completely failed our communities of color with the worst educational disparities in the country. If again you want to blame the victim please explain to me why those disparities exist to such a larger extent here than in even the southern states. It takes a lot to launch a young person especially a young man. I find many of the people that believe the poor don’t exist have family members living in their basement or being supported by them without understanding that many others do not have those family members to provide that support.

    If in fact all of you who are questioning this reality believe that all the young men you know 18 and older regardless of race in your family or social network, are living independently without the support of family members or federally subsidized student loans at a livable wage, please tell the world the secret to the success because I really would like to know. I personally do not know any.

    Recently I facilitated a discussion about economic disparities and one by one listened to well meaning liberal adults talking about how they instilled the importance of hard work into their children as they grew up. My response was, I did too and in their 30’s my children are independent but I also did something else in their 20’s and that was give them a large amount of money, food and emotional support to help them through and I certainly didn’t have as much money to give as most of the people in the room.

    So before you judge and question, stop and look at reality and ask yourself, Where would that money come from without family support.

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 01/08/2016 - 09:27 am.


    Please be specific and list what disqualifies an18 year old of color from getting an EBT card, housing assistance or many of the other social services that the state of MN offers. Of course the K-12 has completely failed our inner city children, that has happened for the past 30-40 years. When you have a huge Mpls school district (break it up to multiple smaller districts) that gets $20,000 plus per student with no charter school, neighboring school (different district) or private schools competing for that student, you get crappy results. That is a whole different story. I am interested in how with all the social services we pay for with our tax money 3 million folks are slipping through the cracks, not including the homeless street folks, who don’t seek help.

    • Submitted by David Schultz on 01/08/2016 - 10:36 am.

      Housing Assistance – qualifications

      Sorry to comment on a “fact” Joe, but the waiting list for housing assistance in the Twin Cities, State of Minnesota and in America is totally out of control. At last I saw, there where over 6,000 people in the Twin Cities on the “closed” waiting list for a Section 8 Subsidy. Those 6,000 on the waiting list represent at least 15,000 people because the largest number of poor are under the age of 6 in America. The largest number of homeless in Minnesota are under 6. Please check the 2012 Wilder Research Homeless Survey and the new 2015 Homeless Survey results should be out in a couple of months.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 01/08/2016 - 12:26 pm.


        Are those 6,000 people eligible for EBT, SNAP, programs for their children, temporary housing or other programs set up so they will not be living off 2 bucks a day. I don’t doubt for one minute there are folks out there struggling to make it, my disbelief is in America turning it’s back on 3M folks who are asking for help. It appears to be an article on how badly we treat each other by the author, I’m questioning his premise that we have 3M folks looking for help and we as Americans are turning our backs on them. No one yet has been able to back up his claim with any proof.

        • Submitted by David Schultz on 01/08/2016 - 03:49 pm.

          Turning our back on our fellow Americans

          Yes Joe, we do turn our backs on our fellow Minnesotan’s and American’s. After 25 years of working at the State to develop a reliable support system for persons who are homeless or have a serious mental illness or are extremely poor or are all, I can tell you that the voters of this State and the elected officials do a very good job of obsessing with deserving to the point of making certain anyone’s dignity would be degraded. People who are poor, don’t like it in general and are very proud that they not become a burden. Now are there people who don’t fit this scenario, yes. Eligibility for “EBT, SNAP, programs for their children, temporary housing or other programs” for the 6,000 people on the waiting list is a “maybe”. The wonders of our social services is that all these programs stands alone and the paperwork entailed makes yours IRS filling look like a walk in the park. It is all developed on questioning your self worth. Our social support systems are built on the English Poor Laws, which the United States separated itself from in the Revolutionary War of Independence. But I digress. What proof are you wanting and do you know where you can find it? I would just suggest that you arer the best judge of what meets proof for yourself. Let me know if I can help.

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 01/09/2016 - 01:39 pm.

            I have often wondered about the cost of the bureaucracy

            …that we think is necessary to validate the applications for assistance of those in need.

            It must be a huge number.

            Of course, it is a very big employment program, too. That is part of the problem. As the business rules to identify those who are NOT “deserving” are progressively refined and sophisticated over time, it takes more and more systems and people to enforce those rules, and soon the maintenance expense of the bureaucracy is a very substantial part of the problem it is supposed to solve.

            I can’t see a way out of this that doesn’t include a drastic simplification of the business rules and elimination of substantial swaths of the bureaucracy.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/09/2016 - 03:50 pm.


              There is simply no benefit to the bureaucrats in reducing the number of people on welfare or the size of the budget. Their promotions, pay and job security are directly tied to keeping people dependent.

              It is like expecting tax accountants to request that the tax code be simplified. It may be good for the rest of us, however it may put them out of a job… 🙂

  7. Submitted by David Schultz on 01/08/2016 - 10:19 am.

    Blessed are those who know the 1% and care about them

    Thank you Jim Scheibel for your attention on the deserving poor. You are making “talk” about the poor happen by your article.

    The comments on both sides of this issue definitely mirror the politics in America today. I appears it also mirrors the sides of the those who heard Jesus 2000 years ago.

    What I am sad about is that both sides blame one another and tell us what we should “think” or “know”. All you have asked, Jim, is for people to talk with poor people about their lives and how they are or aren’t being helped by our social policies.

    We can certainly find excuses from both sides of this “talk” about who is “deserving”. God knows, I have a hard time understanding why I am not one of the 1% who are the richest or poorest in America. Who am I to judge or even know? Who am I to judge that a person with 1% of all the wealth in America is deserving. And I certainly don’t know any people who have the 1% of the wealth in America. I don’t even know how our social policies “helped” them become so rich. It must be they choose to become rich and God heard their plea and said blessed are they. Or maybe God said “blessed are those who when they hear there are 1% poor who deserve our attention and say show me your wounds”.

    But then again God must of made some people in God’s image and likeness and some who didn’t deserve it. Or am I judging about that? Thanks for giving us the ability to talk about this Jim.

  8. Submitted by Jo Ann Tesar on 01/08/2016 - 11:33 am.

    Joe Smith

    I will be meeting with someone’s 87 year old grandmother today to help her apply for food stamps because her “affordable rent” is $1063 and her social security check is $1700. She also didn’t know that she could apply for help with her energy bills, maybe even get help paying for her supplemental healthcare plan.

    What would disqualify an 18 year old from getting an EBT card, I can tell you, because I help those 18 years get EBT cards. 1) They may not have known that they are still included on their parents EBT card even if they are living on their own. 2) They can’t get pay stubs from their employers. 3) Single adults under the age of 50 and non-disabled are only allowed 3 months of Food Stamps in 36 months. Let’s address the assumption that getting housing for a single poor 18 year is a walk in the park. Low income 1 bed room apartments are not like motel rooms. Waiting lists are 2 -5 years long, and unless you’re disabled or elderly the 18 year old is not going be a priority.

    Might I suggest you try your hand navigating the complex system of generous tax payer funded programs. FYI: Many of the poor folks you talk of have/are also paid taxes and continue to do so in the form of sales tax.

  9. Submitted by joe smith on 01/08/2016 - 01:05 pm.

    Jo Ann

    Thank you for the information. If you are included on your parents EBT card then I assume they can get their share from their parents, if not, shame on the parents not tax payers. How are you not getting a pay stub with your check? All of these stories re-enforce the fact that we have multiple programs that don’t allow folks looking for help to live off 2 bucks a day. That was the premise of Jim’s article. No one said being poor was great and easy, I’m saying there is no way in America if a person wants help we will turn our back on them and make them live off 2 bucks a day.

    I wish you luck in getting the 87 year old food stamps. I am sure it will go fine because that is why we have those programs, to help the needy.

  10. Submitted by John Appelen on 01/08/2016 - 01:33 pm.

    Alternate Date

    Here is a different view.

  11. Submitted by John Appelen on 01/08/2016 - 01:43 pm.

    More Data

    Another perspective.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 01/08/2016 - 03:15 pm.

      Thank you

      Interesting read. I was wondering were the 3M number came from and how in America we could not help those in need. The narrative too often is we are selfish here in the USA and only the evil 1%ers do well. I have never believed that and am surprised how many folks get upset when you point out no one in America truly has to live off of 2 bucks a day. America with all its ups and downs is by far the most generous country in the world….. Sorry to break that piece of great news to the haters.

  12. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/10/2016 - 08:52 am.

    Floating LInks

    Just a general observation:

    May we all precede our various embedded links with a brief thesis sentence, or some other handy intro?

    [Editors please take note]

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/10/2016 - 11:15 am.


      I am sorry I did not leave more in the way of comment. The links seemed to speak for themselves and defend what the more Conservative commenters were writing. It appears that even a left leaning institution like Brookings agrees that the $2 authors were incorrect in their analysis.

      As a nation we redistribute almost $1 trillion dollars in wealth via Local, State and National government programs. On top of that the charitable organizations apparently receive ~$300 billion. Now it is true that some of that goes to program management, fraud protection, etc, however if it is more than 20% then we had better be looking at streamlining the programs.

      So in simple numbers $800,000,000,000/ 30,000,000 people would be ~$26,000/person/year in money and services. ( some more and some less)

      Now if the individuals are healthy, capable, adults who should be working… Why again would be paying them? Especially now in MN when every store, gas station, restaurant, etc seems to have help wanted signs in the windows.

  13. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/11/2016 - 07:45 pm.

    Nice Math

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to find numbers on how much money is not properly distributed to Uncle Sam because of a corrupt tax code? Call it loophole welfare!

    Back to point: easy to call out problems entirely different animal to do something about it. What is the plan to identify and throw those loafers in the street? Better to throw them in the street first or get the “Loophole welfare” folks?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/11/2016 - 09:38 pm.


      The tax code contains many many features that were put there for some reason. Some encourage investment, some give cash to the low income folks, some encourage health savings, some encourage retirement savings, some encourage charitable giving, etc. One of the biggest is the mortgage interest deduction which most of us take advantage of. I am not sure I would call these features “corrupt” since we all benefit from them. (even the low income folks, work credit, child credit, etc)

      Please remember that the Conservatives are the ones promoting the flat tax in order to simplify the tax code. I have not heard of any Liberals encouraging this.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/12/2016 - 02:06 am.


        Since the flat tax is simply another way of saying “screw the poor” while giving the wealthy a handout, its rather easy to see why liberals aren’t in favor. Care to elaborate why this isn’t so, or do you simply subscribe to the notion that progressive taxation is “evil” like so many of your conservative cohorts?

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/12/2016 - 09:40 am.

          Liberals aren’t in favor of a flat tax

          because progressive tax rates are called for in the Manifesto.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/12/2016 - 10:47 am.


          I am indifferent to the tax code, I think it is fine the way it is. Dennis W. is the one who said it is corrupt. I am just a fan of Keep It Simple Stupid if you want to eliminate biases and unnecessary costs.

          I don’t think progressive taxation is evil, I just think it is unfair. People and families paying higher rates because they learned, worked, saved, invested, made good life choices, etc. Just so some of their money can be sent to other citizens who likely made different choices.

          A Flat tax where people making under ~$40, 000 pay zero taxes but receive fewer services and cash freebies than today seems fairest. They get the benefit and opportunity of living in the USA, while paying NO taxes. And everyone above that threshold of income pays the same rate.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/14/2016 - 09:41 pm.

            Corrupt # 1

            Long term capital gains are taxed at 15% (Mr or Mrs millionaire/Billionaire)

            Mr. or Mrs worker pays 7.5% on the first and last dollar they earn < ~ $108K Mr or Mrs sol proprietor pays the full boat 15% on the first and last $ they earn < $~ 108K Plus State ~ 7.85% and Federal income tax minimum 15% Mr. & Mrs average tax payer spend nearly every $ they make sales tax on the majority of their income, 6.875% to 7.875%. need the math in an Excel document? Cranking those estimated taxes out 4X a year. Should we shed crocodile tears for the Multimillionaires caught in the 15% long term gain tax bracket? Money made on money gets preferential treatment over money made on sweat and blood, please reveal that biblical verse where J.C. threw the day workers out of the temple and coddled the money changes. We are really interested in that parable.

Leave a Reply