In 2006, Adam Shepard graduated from Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, where he majored in Business Management and Spanish. Having read investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" and "Bait and Switch," he wanted to evaluate her points and test if he can reproduce her findings. In her books, Ehrenreich had investigated the hardships that many poor people face and claimed that they are never able to get out of poverty, as they are challenged by hidden costs for shelter and food (e.g. being forced to pay higher daily rates because they cannot afford the security deposit). Her ultimate conclusion is that hard work and discipline are futile and do not allow people to escape poverty.
Therefore, without any training in journalism or science, lacking technical knowledge pertinent to validating his own findings, he set out to simply report what he was about to experience without drawing conclusions about the people he met along his journey.
At first, he self-published his book, but after it received considerable attention by the media, he sold Scratch Beginnings to a HarperCollins. The book has now been used on the curriculum or as a First Year Common Read at over 110 colleges and universities in the United States and translated across the world.