The difference? Ms. Saunders has a job, and Mr. Constance does not. And therein lies a tale of a profound shift in government support for low-income Americans at a time when stagnating wages and unstable schedules have kept many workers living near or below the poverty line.
Assistance to needy Americans has grown at a gallop since the mid-1980s, giving a hand up to the disabled, the working poor and married couples with children. At the same time, though, government aid directed at the nation’s poorest individuals has shrunk.