Poverty Numbers Seem a Bit Low

While officially four million more Americans – many of them children – found themselves in poverty from 2008 to 2009, the number is probably higher.

The official total number of Americans in poverty is now 44 million, reports The New York Times. That 1-in-7 Americans are poor number is based on the federally-determined poverty level. For a family of four, that would be an income of $22,050 or less a year.

Now, I know it’s possible to live on that much, but let’s look at the numbers. In my neighborhood, the annual rent runs about $1,800 a month, which totals $21,600 a year, leaving $37.50 a month for electricity, water, gas, transportation, insurance and food. Okay, so my mythical family can’t live in my part of town unless they have well-heeled relatives.

But what about more affordable neighborhoods in the Phoenix metro area? Here are some possibilities:

Some of these places are nicer than others. Still, it’s especially depressing that it would cost $500 a month to squeeze a family of four into a 1-bedroom Apache Junction house.

But looking at these places, we can surmise that a struggling family might be able to find a cockroach free, 2-bedroom, 1-bath rental for about $400 a month. Maybe. Of course, finding such a rental in a relatively low crime area might be more difficult. It would be still more difficult to find such a place that was adjacent to a good school system, but hey, that’s the breaks when you live in the United States.

Anyway, let’s do the math on our $400 rental with some assumption about water, gas, etc.:

Annual Assumptions





Food based on Low-Cost Plan for food, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture
. (Only the most dedicated family can feed their
kids on the $117 a week Thrifty Plan. And the USDA, of course, is presuming
you have access to affordable food.)


Electricity ($75 monthly average bill, assuming all
electric home or apartment.)


Assuming parents drive 10,000 miles a year in one car for
work, and using the IRS 50 cents a mile standard. (There is not a lot of mass
transit options in Arizona,
and it’s tough getting around without two cars, but I’ll let it slide.)


Water, sewage and garbage (Based on rough estimate of $50
a month.)


Verizon cell phone family plan for two (no land lines)


Total so far


That leaves our family with $790.8 to pay for remaining annual expenses, such as toothpaste and other personal sundries, school supplies for the kids, clothing and cleaning supplies. Hopefully, they don’t need a new car or repairs that year.

Let’s not even talk about toys and entertainment, which is probably not considered a life necessity under the bureaucrats’ way of thinking. We’ll just assume – hah! – there is a good library branch and basketball court nearby.

So it’s possible to earn only $22,050 and be technically above the poverty line. Of course, I don’t know about you, but I’d feel that I was below the poverty line caring for my family with only $22,050 a year. (Oh, I’m guessing the $22,050 is after Social Security and Medicare taxes are taken out.)

But wait. I left something out. Something kind of important: health care! Now if you’re single, you might feel you can live without health insurance, but if you’re a parent – whose kid broke his arm or leg last week – you certainly DO NOT feel that way.

My wife’s health care plan costs us about $600 a month or $7,200 a year. Not cheap. Let’s just say that the basic, mandatory Obama health care plan costs an American family of four the bargain rate of $300 a month. I have no idea what it will really be, but even with that number, the poverty line just moved up $3,600 to $25,650 a year.

I can’t help wonder how many people that would add to the official ranks of the poor? One million? Two million? Five million? I don’t know, but certainly the numbers that were reported this week seem a wee bit optimistic to me.

8 thoughts on “Poverty Numbers Seem a Bit Low

  1. AJ

    There are no poor children. Kids don’t work and earn wages or make the major choices about how money is spent. Everything is given, or not given, to kids. Poverty is a condition of adults. How poverty is managed, what sacrifices are made, varies from family to family.
    It’s more constructive to discuss poverty in tangible terms. For example: the number of malnourished children, children who don’t receive breakfast or have it publicly funded at school, don’t receive dental care or receive it publicly funded, and so forth.

  2. Moira @ Israel

    Your calculations are depressing but it is evident that more and more people give up such things as eating out in a good restaurant, for example. The point is that the country whose original value was freedom and democracy now makes the citizens live a life similar to the one slaves once had.

  3. games for pc windows xp

    This is really disheartening to know that a lot of people are in poverty. I am so lucky that I belong to a middle class family where we can somehow afford what we would like. But I am always saddened when I hear or see people in poverty especially children. That is why I always extend my help whenever I can to show my help to our unlucky brothers and sisters.

  4. CFD

    Poverty has been the problem of society since then. There are issues arising from the lack of employment, and sort of that leads to poverty. In a country, this is not a good sign when we want to attract investors. But the government on the other hand are making solutions to it. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts with us.

  5. Debt Help

    Poverty is the harshest social climate a child can grow up in.It is the state of being poor, while the environment is the condition that affects mainly, the behavior and development of something.


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