Living on the Edge

Programs 295, 296


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Over a third of Americans lack sufficient savings to handle a $400 emergency. In this revealing public radio documentary, we consider the plight of tens of millions of Americans living on the edge of poverty. They may be among your family members or neighbors.

Most of us hold misconceptions about who is struggling to get by on low income, and whether the social safety net — intended to prevent vulnerable people from falling through the cracks — is actually adequate.

Low-income activists testifying before Congress

Low-income activists testifying before Congress

Pantry Patrons shoppingWe visit food pantries to discuss these conditions with patrons who line up for a limited supply of groceries — among them young mothers, older adults on a fixed income, the working poor and people with disabilities. The number of folks using these services has noticeably increased as the Covid-19 crisis has tapered  off. At the same time, emergency benefits for many families have been scaled back.

Michelle Pfeiffer in title role, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer in the title role of Where Is Kyra? about a woman facing hard times

You’ll also hear from Mark Rank, author of The Poverty Paradox and professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis; Kisha Davis, MD, the Health Officer for Montgomery County, Maryland; members of the Poor People’s Campaign, who testified before Congress, including Rev. William Barber II; and brief excerpts from powerful movies dramatizing this theme.

And we listen back to how government aid to low-income Americans has been politicized from the enactment of Social Security in 1935 to the debate over newer protections in the Affordable Care Act.

Mark Rank, prof. of social work, Washington Univ./St. Louis, author The Poverty Paradox

Mark Rank, prof. of social work, Washington Univ./St. Louis, author of The Poverty Paradox

Rev. William Barber III

Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign

Kisha Davis, MD

Kisha Davis, MD, Health Officer of Montgomery County, Maryland

To learn more

The Poverty Paradox, Mark Rank, Washington University in St. Louis (Oxford University Press, 2023)

Poverty, by America, Matthew Desmond, Princeton University (Crown, 2023)

Growing up Poor in America, Frontline, 1-hour (PBS, 2020):


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