Michelle McCleary–Reader’s Forum on $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America



$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing In America

$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing In America:  by authors Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer is a simply written but powerful book.  The authors do a great job of humanizing and detailing the lives of the poorest of the poor, i.e. a segment of our population that Americans either don’t know exist or dismiss and critique.  I must admit that this was one of the hardest P4P submissions that I have ever written. It took more time than usual to finish.  While reading $2 a Day  I needed to take frequent breaks because I found the content so upsetting and infuriating. A few times while speaking to a client at work last week, I started to think about the book.  I am nearly embarrassed to admit that I started to cry!  I am sure that the clients could hear the tears in my voice, but mercifully didn’t say anything.   The authors do a thorough job of detailing the devastating effects and failure of ‘welfare reform.’  I found myself wanting to scream ‘who the eff do you think you are’ at President Bill Clinton and the other politicians who created this thoughtless disaster.  I, of course, already knew about what is referred to as the ‘welfare reform’ act of 1996, but authors Kathryn J. Edin and Luke Shaefer’s words had a profound impact on me.

“We must teach people to love the poor.” – Dr. Lenora Fulani.  I read Fulani’s quote in a Facebook post by Cathy Stewart, founder and creator of the Politics for the People book club.  I wholeheartedly agree with this statement because I believe with all of who I am that the only thing that will truly end poverty is to change our culture which currently blames and humiliates poor people to a culture that shows support and compassion.  I hope that the rest of my blog post contributes to conveying this love.

When my alarm clock rings at 4:15am on work days, I groan and wonder out loud for the 500th time if I am insane for working at a job that requires waking up at this hour.  After I manage to drag myself out of bed, have a shower and drink a strong cup of green tea, I usually start to feel happy.  I am thrilled that I will get to spend another day with my co-workers who are some of the most interesting and lovely people I have ever met.  Working with my colleagues is like living in Harlem, NY: you are never alone.  People smile at each other and say hello just because. One of the many things that I have always loved about Black people is our courage: we face our pain head on.   My primarily Black co-workers are very honest about who they are. Most of them have lived and continue to live in environments and in situations that are daunting. It is not unusual to speak to a co-worker who survived crack and heroin addiction, homelessness, time in prison or long periods of their lives trying to survive on meager government assistance.  About six months ago, I met a co-worker who I will call ‘Joyce.’  During one of our conversations, Joyce shared with me that she was living in a ‘half way house i.e. she was allowed to work while she finished her prison sentence.  I think Joyce thought I would judge her, but I just said “it’s all good, we all make mistakes.”  Joyce flashed me her beautiful, nearly toothless smile.  When I shared with Joyce, that I am a vegan/vegetarian, Joyce promised to try to smuggle some veggie burgers out of the prison cafeteria for me. Ha!! A very pregnant, 21 year old young woman who grew up in foster care and now lives in a shelter has inherited countless ‘mothers’ at work.  I love to see her smile as we heap more love and support on her than she has likely ever received in her life.

In 2009, I graduated from business school with a Master of Business Administration degree (M.B.A). Unfortunately I was greeted by the worst job market in 100 years as America struggled through the Great Recession.  When I finally found employment, I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with ‘vulnerable’ youth i.e. young adults who lived in homeless shelters, foster care placements or who were court involved.  It was tough getting through what I will call ‘our honeymoon period’ with a twist – these young people were tough and mean. After I let them know, nicely of course (ha!) that I couldn’t be bullied by them, they began to show me how loving they could be to me and to each other. When my father died in 2012, my students presented me with hand-written cards to show how sorry they were for my loss.  I even received a hand-made flower! When I started to cry in front of the class, they surrounded me in a huge group hug.   My students were particularly kind to me when I was suffering from horrible pain due to fibroid tumors.  Although I was on painkillers, some break through pain made it nearly impossible to stand or walk around. It was not unusual for a student – usually one of the young men – to push me around the space in a chair that had wheels on it.  These devastated and poor young adults taught this ‘woman of a certain age’ how to text, gently corrected me when I referred to tweets as twits (ha!) and tried hard not to laugh when I took my extremely out of style flip phone (remember those) out of my purse.

In his work with Barack Obama, David Axelrod once wrote that one of his first tasks was to humanize Barack Obama to white America.  Unfortunately race still plays a big role in our culture and black people, even those who are as educated and privileged as a Barack Obama, are rarely seen as human.  I believe that in teaching people to love the poor we must first help to humanize the poor.  In giving our own love for a segment of the population who both need and deserve so much love, we will provide tremendous leadership to America and the world.

Michelle McCleary is a life-long independent and the President of the New York Black MBA Association.

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#



Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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