Blog Action Day: Poverty – What is that “Poverty Level” and where does it come from? (4am)

When talking about poverty, people always seem to bring up the “poverty level” factor. They (or I) will say something like “15% of the poverty level, dot dot dot.” Well, what does it really mean? Here’s my attempt at explaining it…

The most common measure of poverty in the US is the “poverty line” set by the good ole U.S. government. The government does this to estimate the number of “poor” people for the census and determine eligibility for government assistance. I think many people, (me too) incorrectly assumed that this is the minimal amount of money a person or family can live on, it is not, I repeat, IT IS NOT! Which make the poverty line and the number of individuals and families below that line so worrying and quite frankly disgraceful.

The Federal Poverty Guideline for a 4 person family in 2008 is $21,200. You tell me, can you and your family live on $21K a year?

To put this into context, for a typical family, (wife, husband and 2 kids) if both parents made only minimum wage ($6.55 per hour), they would still make $5,000 more than the poverty line. $6.55 x 2 x 2000 = $26,200 and would not qualify for federal assistance programs.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities does a great job of explaining how the federal poverty level is calculated and how it is disconnected from the REALITIES of how much it really costs families to live here in Central Texas. They estimate that 38% of families here, in Central Texas, cannot meet their most basic financial needs. Check out their research yourself here.

It’s appalling that we have people living in these conditions. We need to come together as a community to create opportunities for families to move up. We have the power to change it, now will we do it? Will you step up?


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