Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Definitions of what it means to be poor in the United States
Published on August 30, 2004 By Draginol In Politics

This past week the 2003 report on the poverty rate for the United States came out.  The poverty rate grew slightly for the third straight year from its its all time low in 2000 (right when the stock bubble about about to burst).  It is now back to where it was during most of the 90s -- 12.5%.

In addition to the link below, you can also find out more on this from the US census bureau: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty.html

The problem with the poverty rate is that it seems politicized. I mean who exactly decides what poverty is?  In the United States, you are living in poverty if your household income is $9,573.  That seems pretty high as that would mean I spent quite a bit of my time in "poverty" in college.  Sure didn't seem like that.

But it gets better, you see, that amount only counts as cash income. If you receive help and aid that isn't actual cash (or on the books) then it doesn't get counted as part of this.  So someone receiving credits, scholarships, grants, etc. will not get counted here. And obviously unreported income (tips, gifts, etc.) won't be counted here either.

When I was in college, I lived with 4 women in a house.  The rent was roughly $500 per month so that left $100 per person per month.  Add $20 per person for utilities, $80 per month for food and you had the basics for $200 per month per person.  That's $2,400.  Still, you have insurance, gas, and other necesities but there's a big gulf between $2,400 and $9,573.

The problem people in the United States have is that we have ridiculous expectations on lifestyle.  On $9,573 you might have a tough time having your own apartment (even though roughly 40% of people who live in "poverty" own a home according to the bureau).  But you're not starving. You might (gasp) have to have roommates.

Getting back to the politicizinig of this issue, the problem is that this number grows each year and it's not merely adjusted for inflation. And the term "poverty" is thrown to represent something it's not.  I don't know about you, but when I think of poverty I think of people who are barely getting by. Can't afford food. Worried about having shelter. Can't get clothing (and remember, donated goods don't count as income so you can't affect the poverty rate by donating clothes and other goods).

Even compared to first world countries, what we consider poverty seems a bit absurd.  For instance, Australians, on average, make only 73% as much as the average American.  So if you're making $24k per year here in the US, the Australian equivalent of you is making only $17k.  Taking this to its logical conclusion, the Australian equivalent of someone working full time at $8 per hour would be essentially living in poverty by our standards. And that's ridiculous.

It's not that there aren't people who are really poor. It's just that becuase of politics, the tools for actually measuring and finding these people are woefully inadequate. 

What we need is for the government or some agency to sit down and figure out how much it costs to live in a given country. That is, how much food, rent, clothing, car insurance, heat, electricity cost. Then draw the line there and anyone below that is living in poverty.

Then we need to figure out why they're in poverty and see what we can do to help them -- if we can.


Comments (Page 2)
on Aug 31, 2004
Obesity is much worse among the poor.

I've read that the obesity statistics relate to the fact that healthy foods are often more expensive (potato chips give you way more calories per dollar than fruits and vegetables), and that the poor don't have time/money/environment for exercise.
on Aug 31, 2004
... yeah Bakerstreet, I do think it all comes down to where you live. Location is what it is I guess. Food, utilities, and especially rent all go down as much as 50% depending on location.

I read Frogboy's blog on poverty and while I disagree at times, he managed to convince me that it really is about how much you pay for normal goods (actually I should say less then normal goods).

I gripe about NYC conditions and rent for a studio being 800 USD and spending almost 12,000 just to have a roof over your head contributes to what can be called poverty.



I think if I can't get a decent job in NYC (or even half decent, but just not quarter decent: I have to draw the line somewhere) I am going to move to another state. Just so I can save up some money to finish school and hope for a better future and a better paying job a few years down the road.
on Aug 31, 2004

"That is, how much food, rent, clothing, car insurance, heat, electricity cost."

Some employers--via Adam Smith--already know what it takes to fuel labor which is their starting line: minimum wage with some lagnappes thrown in.

on Sep 01, 2004

This isn't about what you think people should live like.  This is about politicizing the term "poverty" until it has no meaning.

Cable TV and cell phones are not a "right". They're a luxury.  Beign able to afford your own home is not a right either.

I think, as a rich nation, we have a responsibility to make sure no one goes hungry and that everyone has some sort of shelter. But I don't think the "guvment" is the most effective way to do that.

on Sep 01, 2004
Jay, "here, they show that a person with an income at less than one half the median is more likely to die early (before 60 years old) in the US than in any other westernized country. "

Could that be because the more "poverty stricken" here in the US tend to live a more unhealthy lifestyle and that it could be totally unrelated to how much money they make?
Whether you're homeless and fit or "poor" and overweight because of McDonald's..Not to demean anything..it's just..sounds more like common sense than hard statistics linking the two, you know?
on Sep 01, 2004
Maybe a good idea for a poverty line would be: Can you afford to live in either a low-rent apartment or a cheap housing and still afford the basic life nessecity utlitlies and provide food for your family? If not, you're below the line.


Povert-"The state of being poor; lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts. " -dictionary.com
Things that make you go, HM.
on Sep 01, 2004
I think, as a rich nation, we have a responsibility to make sure no one goes hungry and that everyone has some sort of shelter. But I don't think the "guvment" is the most effective way to do that.
Yes, I agree, but the government should be held responsible for ignoring the elements that contribute to a lackluster environment, and for not being a positive facilitator to self-reliance. Or at least lead others to take up the flag. Leaving it the Red Cross and Bill Gates is not going to meet these needs.
on Sep 01, 2004
"...but the government should be held responsible for ignoring the elements that contribute to a lackluster environment..."


Why? Is that a natural law?

on Sep 01, 2004
but the government should be held responsible for ignoring the elements that contribute to a lackluster environment, and for not being a positive facilitator to self-reliance.


Here in my area, the county has a program that give a clean set of cloths, shower, shaves for men, employment assistance, food and a bunk to any homeless person who gets a job no matter how little it makes. Our local newspaper allows the homeless to sell newspapers on the corner with no questions asked, which qualifies them for the first program. Most of the county program in accualy funded by donations. It is a good system. But has it stopped me from seeing people sleeping on the park bench in the morning when I run or people begging for hand outs no more then ten feet from an other guy selling newspapers? No. Sometimes some people just want the hand out. Is the governments responsible to take care of that person that just wants the hand out and not the assistence to become self-reliant.

P.S. I am aware that some people do have mentle problems.
on Sep 01, 2004
I've read that the obesity statistics relate to the fact that healthy foods are often more expensive (potato chips give you way more calories per dollar than fruits and vegetables), and that the poor don't have time/money/environment for exercise.


Exactly. Sometimes I have to make a meal out fo really cheap junk food. I can fill up with just 2 dollars that way. It's fattening, however.
on Sep 01, 2004
I can understand the government doing its best to ensure "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", but I don't think it is in the job description to ensure middle-class status, however objectively you try and define it.
on Sep 01, 2004
Exactly. Sometimes I have to make a meal out fo really cheap junk food. I can fill up with just 2 dollars that way. It's fattening, however.


I feel compelled to interject here to say that this is why WIC is such a good program. Not only does it support the agricultural industry, but instead of allowing for poor nutritional choices like food stamps do, it dictates what items can be "bought" (fruit juice, peanut butter, canned tuna, dried beans, iron-fortified cereal, milk, block cheese, carrots, and infant formula, typically) and in addition to helping provide a small amount (1 & 1/2 gallons milk per 2 week period, for example) of those items monthly, it requires that recipients attend nutrition classes that teach them how to make the most of the items they receive. (The WIC program also provides other health-related services such as general check-ups on weight and height for the children)

However, WIC is a very targeted program and is only available to families with one or more children under the age of five and pregnant women. The income cut off for a family of four living in the contiguous United States is $34,873 annually, which means that people that do not make a lot but are usually ineligible for other government aid (educators, police officers, military, social workers, etc.) are able to use the program. However, it does not help single or married adults with no children or families in which all children are over the age of five.

The WIC program helps provide the tools and knowledge neccessary for a financially struggling family to feed itself in a healthy manner and teaches it how to make the most of the groceries that it can afford.

More information can be found here Link

on Sep 01, 2004
Food budgets are infinitely flexible, and things like health restrictions, personal preferences, and shopping skills come into play.


Yes and no, LW...

In certain areas, price controls add to the cost of certain food items. We are 60 miles from Vegas, and our groceries can be 30-40% higher (with the exception of our one "warehouse" store), while rent and insurance are considerably lower. We have been an example of where WalMart has been a WELCOME addition to our community, as their distribution system leads to more universal pricing, and the prices of the two competitors has come down (since the two competitors are Smith's and Albertson's, I'm sure it's not breaking the bank for them to lower their prices).

The problem with this is obvious: the wealthier members of our community have a lower cost of living, as they are able to go to Las Vegas and buy their necessities at a lower price; while the poorer members of our community have a higher cost of living, as they have to go to the grocery stores in town.
on Sep 01, 2004
However, WIC is a very targeted program and is only available to families with one or more children under the age of five and pregnant women. The income cut off for a family of four living in the contiguous United States is $34,873 annually, which means that people that do not make a lot but are usually ineligible for other government aid (educators, police officers, military, social workers, etc.) are able to use the program. However, it does not help single or married adults with no children or families in which all children are over the age of five. The WIC program helps provide the tools and knowledge neccessary for a financially struggling family to feed itself in a healthy manner and teaches it how to make the most of the groceries that it can afford.


Texas,

The WIC program is another example of bureaucracy gone wrong, though. The reason that we had to make the move out here was because WIC initiated an allegation of neglect against us because our now two year old wasn't gaining at a rate they deemed acceptable. There's a VERY dark side to this agency.
on Sep 01, 2004
The reason that we had to make the move out here was because WIC initiated an allegation of neglect against us because our now two year old wasn't gaining at a rate they deemed acceptable. There's a VERY dark side to this agency.


Gideon: I'm sorry to hear that. I don't doubt that problems exist within the agency, but I feel that overall WIC is a helpful program. I definitely don't know what the answers are for all these issues . . .