$2.00 a Day Characters

The main characters in $2.00 a Day include Modonna Harris, Jennifer Hernandez, and Paul and Sarah Heckewelder.

  • Modonna Harris is a Chicagoan single mother who was plunged into poverty and chronic unemployment after being wrongfully fired from her low-wage job.
  • Jennifer Hernandez is a single mother of two whose low-paying job cleaning abandoned buildings in the Chicago winter left her too sick to work, forcing her to rely on family and friends.
  • Paul and Sarah Heckewelder are a Cleveland couple who lost their successful business during the Great Recession of 2008, leaving them destitute and deeply in debt.

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Characters

President Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton served two terms as president, from 1993 to 2001. During his time as a public servant, he was an important leader of the centrist New Democrats, who were fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Clinton's views on poverty and welfare reform were greatly influenced by David Ellwood's treatise “Reducing Poverty by Replacing Welfare.”

The authors of $2.00 a Day show that Clinton changed the face of welfare forever. In 1996, his revolutionary welfare reform law replaced the decades-old cash AFDC (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Unlike AFDC, TANF came with time limits and work requirements. The goal of TANF was to promote work, parental responsibility, and marriage.

President Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan served two terms as president, from 1981 to 1989. He popularized the term “welfare queen” on the campaign trail and made several far-reaching changes to AFDC during his time in office.

Reagan secured deep cuts in welfare spending and was the first president to give states the right to include work requirements in AFDC programs. During his time in office, as many as forty states set up welfare-to-work programs. However, the lack of state funds eventually hindered their continuation. This set the stage for Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform law.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson served as president from 1963 to 1969. He succeeded to the presidency after the untimely death of President John F. Kennedy. Johnson managed to win a full term in office after defeating Barry Goldwater in the presidential race.

Johnson lamented that “many Americans live on the outskirts of hope—some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both.” His signature accomplishment was signing the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (unofficially named the “War on Poverty”) into law. Predicated on the notion of giving the poor a “hand up, not a hand out,” the law led to the creation of the Job Corps, work-study programs in colleges, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), Head Start, and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

Modonna Harris

Modonna is a single mother in Chicago with a young daughter named Brianna. She is resourceful, hardworking, and fiercely independent. Prior to her displacement, she worked as a cashier at a music shop. Although the job paid only nine dollars per hour, Modonna counted herself fortunate to have employment. However, after her cash drawer came up ten dollars short, she was fired. Modonna's name was eventually cleared, but she never received an apology. The job loss led to a reduction of Modonna's SNAP benefits and also made it impossible for her to receive housing assistance.

As employers prefer to hire those with stable living situations, Modonna became chronically unemployed. In addition, since SNAP can't be used to pay for utilities, rent, or school supplies, Modonna and her daughter found themselves plunged into abject poverty. Sometimes, Modonna exchanged sex work for food and shelter. To make matters worse, she had to endure abusive behavior from relatives and her ex-husband while trying to make ends meet. The authors highlight her experience to show the need for welfare reform that considers the plight of the non-working poor.

Jennifer Hernandez

(The entire section is 1,558 words.)