Could you live on $2 a day?

The number of Americans living on less than $2 dollars a day has doubled in the last two decades.

According to data compiled by the World Bank and other global institutions, 1.5 million American households live in extreme poverty, and that number includes at least 3 million children. In addition, that number has increased dramatically since the so-called “welfare reform” of the 1990's.

It is unacceptable that anyone should be suffering such extreme poverty in the richest nation on Earth, and it's simply un-American that our children should be living in these conditions. And, while we have many social programs that are supposed to provide a safety net for impoverished families, social stigma, restrictive guidelines, and a lack of awareness keep many families from using the benefits that could help lift them out of poverty.

For example, the researchers noted that many families in so-called “ultrapoor” areas, like Appalachia, don't even know that benefits are available. When researchers asked families in these poor regions why they haven't applied for TANF benefits, many people responded with “what's that?”.

In fact, in 2012, only 25 percent of families who are eligible for TANF benefits receive them, which means that three-out-of-four poor families are likely going to be hungry.

What good is a social safety net if three out of four needy families are falling through the cracks?

We must decide as a nation whether we will help our neighbors, or ignore them. Whether we demand a basic minimum standard for everyone, or simply accept the fact that our fellow Americans are living in extreme poverty.

We can do better, and we must – for the sake of millions of Americans who need our help.

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