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Bloomberg Distinguished Professor finds evidence of third-world poverty in the U.S.

Kathryn Edin’s research shows Americans living on $2 per day
Posted December 11, 2015

From People to Policy: The Research of Kathy Edin

Professor Kathy Edin and Ndubisi Okeke, A&S '14, tour a Baltimore neighborhood.

Kathy Edin's research found an increase in Americans living on $2 per day. Kathy Edin's research found an increase in Americans living on $2 per day.

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Kathryn Edin, who holds a joint appointment in both the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, has been researching urban family structure and poverty for more than two decades. But even she was shocked when she started seeing data indicating American families living in extreme poverty, akin to that of living in a developing country. 

“Right about the time I came to Hopkins, I’d been doing work here in Baltimore among low‑income households, and I kept running into families who had no cash,” Edin says. “They might have had a housing subsidy, but they had no cash.”

Collaborating with an economist from the University of Michigan, Edin set up four sites around the country to study the phenomenon. And this research in Chicago, Cleveland, Appalachia, and the Mississippi Delta confirmed a rise in households living on $2 per person per day and that this demographic includes 3.3 million children.

“Even for somebody who’s studied poverty for 25 years, this was so different and a deeper form of poverty than I could have even imagined existed in this country,” says Edin, adding that her Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship funds were the tool she needed to gather this data.

Her team also found 70 percent of these households have an adult who has worked in the formal labor market within the last year.

“And that’s actionable information,” according to Edin. All of her research and that of her team is designed to help inform the creation of improved public policies.

Edin, who is the author of five (soon to be six) books, is the inaugural director of the university's 21st Century Cities Initiative. She is a leading advocate for studying poverty by deploying ethnographic observations, in-depth interviews, and mixed-method approaches that explore aspects of welfare and low-wage work, family life, and neighborhood dynamics not fully explained by quantitative means. Now considered mainstream, her methods have been incorporated into many of the most important national poverty studies.