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Home » Frugality, Taxes

What is the US Poverty Line & Could YOU Live Below it?

Last updated by on April 19, 2016

I keep a close watch on all of my expenses and take a bit of pride in how low I’ve been able to drive them.

Our (wife and I) average expenses over the last few months has been around $1,770 ($21,240 per year).

If I deduct my effective property taxes from my expenses and subtract the cash back credit card rewards I am getting (often 5%), the average drops to $1,630 per month, or $19,560 per year. This is consistent with my annual average over the last few years.

Getting down to this level made me curious as to whether my expenses were actually below the 2016 U.S. income poverty guidelines.

Why? Well, I have no intention of applying for any of the federal benefits one is eligible for when their income is below (or even at exceeding multiples of) the poverty line, such as the National School Lunch Program, Food Stamps, Home Energy Assistance Program, etc.

US poverty line

Rather, I wanted to see how close I was. What does the U.S. government view as “poor” (or at least poor enough to be eligible for federal assistance). Am I living below that level? Could I live below that level?

When I polled readers a while back on whether they thought saving money or making money was more satisfying, the result was a 45% – 55% split – 91 votes for saving money, 109 votes for making money. I tend to side more with the saving money folks because I get a thrill out of saving money and being self reliant that making money just doesn’t match. It’s a bit of a game to me.

So what is the poverty line? Let’s start there…

The 2016 U.S. Poverty Guidelines

The numbers adjust every year, but you can see the below chart below for 2015 U.S. federal poverty guideline for certain federal program eligibility.

Family Size:48 Contiguous States & D.C.:Alaska:Hawaii:
each additional person, add:$4,160$5,200$4,780

As you can see, the level changes with the number of household members.

As of the last Census, 14.8% of the U.S. lives in poverty.

Each year, the poverty guidelines are increased/decreased due to changes in the CPI. In most cases, the numbers go up.

Are Our Expenses Below the Poverty Line?

At $19,560 annually, we’re not quite there, but we’re close. Could we get there? Yes.

We’d have to cut about $3,540 annually, or $295 monthly out of our expenses.

As it is, I feel like our lifestyle is far above the poverty line. We cook up great organic vegetarian meals, enjoy an occasional bottle of wine or homebrew, have a nice home in a desirable community, 3 pets, cell phones, internet, bikes, clothing, TV, computers, car, backpacking gear, and even take nice cheap vacations. In our view, we are not living deprived. And we certainly don’t feel impoverished in any way.

The sacrifices it would take to cut $295 per month out of our expenses would not be too painful. It would probably come from a mix of cutting some entertainment, changing our diet slightly to accommodate a shift to more bulk food purchases, reducing our HVAC energy consumption, re-evaluating our insurance levels, and appealing my property taxes with city hall. These are all things that are on my to-do list.

The bottom line is that there are plenty of opportunities to drive your expenses lower without sacrificing quality of life. When you do that, you become more immune to economic factors that are out of your control. And you might even have a little fun in the process.

Could you Live Below Poverty Level?

Regardless of your income levels,

  • Are your annual expenses below the poverty line? If so, do you feel poor or deprived?
  • If your expenses are above the poverty line, could you get there with effort? How would you do it?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    With a family of 3 living in California I don’t think we could pull this off. However a few years ago when I was single, I think I could’ve easily done it and I saved lots of money to boot even w/ a low salary compared to most of my peers and colleagues.

  • Joe says:

    Not a Facebook or Google+ user, so I’ll leave my question here. I’ve been following your blog for a long time and I love (most of) your articles and thought processes. You mention homebrewing every-so-often. Have you been able to financially justify homebrewing? If so, can you break it down for me?

    My father and I brew our own. For his birthday, I brough him the ingredients for a Froach Heather Ale. Altogether, the ingredients cost $50. So in material alone, I’m ready above my $1 / bottle threshold (5 gal batches) that I use to determine if the beer is a deal.

    Looking forward to that blog entry!!!

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I cover it in this post, which is a bit old, and I should probably re-vive:

      It does make sense financially. 5 gallons should equal between 8-9 six packs (of very high quality bottled beer, not Piss or Piss Light). Ingredients usually cost me $35-45. High quality six packs cost $8-9 + tax (let’s say $85-$90 on average for 8-9 packs). Tastes better too. And it’s fun. And it makes you more interesting. Win!

      • Jay Cee says:

        “BEER BREWING” Maybe you can justify brewing your own beer by a “cost benefit ratio” but you cannot use “six packs” as a valid method to compare/contrast method. If you are as financially astute as you sound, you know that six packs are a horrible investment. If you brew beer in bulk,you would use minimum of 12 packs as a method of comparison. Really you would want to go a high as you could i.e. 30 packs. Which would create a much different outcome.

  • JP says:

    I think this is a pretty awesome way to look at things. Our expenses (2 of us) for what we are consuming are right above this mark at $17,880 even in the fairly expensive city of Austin. The key to this for us has been to say no to a mortgage. We were able to buy a house in cash after working our tails off through college to stay out of debt, and going even crazier for a few years afterwards.

    Here’s our quickie budget (note, this doesn’t include gifts to our church):

    $500 – Food & entertainment
    $300 – Property Taxes (This one hurts the most because I can’t do anything about it)
    $140 – Utilities (this drops big time in the winter)
    $250 – Gasoline/Vehicle Maintenance
    $75 – Gifts. Some for Christmas, and then birthdays, etc
    $125 – Misc expenses (home repairs, postage, medical, etc)

    The awesome thing is we lived dirt poor for a few years and told ourselves it was so we could have a mansion, never work again, etc, etc. Now, we can easily do it, but found that we can do everything we want to on this amount. The budget above even includes gas for our boat to go water skiing 1-2 times a week. Now we can just parlay all of our savings into investments and real estate.

    • Robbin says:

      I notice you don’t list paying for health insurance and auto insurance. I live in Austin as well.

      In addition, if you rent, you will not qualify for any place unless your monthly gross at least three times the monthly rent.

    • Roland Loos says:

      Your expenses seem to lack a few fore example

      1. do you pay for health insurance, life insurance .
      my wife and I both are retired and pay $460 a month for
      medicare and supplemental health insurance
      2. how about homeowners insurance. We pay $100/month.
      3. do you have expenses for telephone and cable/internet.
      4. how often do you buy a car, which would require car payments unless you pay cash.
      5. do you pay for car insurance

  • CR says:

    GE – what is the breakdown of your $19,560? Does that include a mortgage pmt each month? Or was that excluded because it’s equity?

    My expenses average about $20k per year…and that’s only for one person. I am surprised (and impressed) your average is so low, GE, for TWO people.

    My top three “spend” categories are 1) rent, 2) travel, and 3) Auto. Close followers are food, “dining out”, and clothes. I really think of myself as a ‘saver’, but apparently I am not as frugal as I thought! I have a new goal to work towards, though I know I couldn’t get down to $11,150 without downgrading significantly in where i live (both from a safety and a location stand point). I currently only pay $650 for rent (w/ 1 roommate) and bills are included. Compared to my peers, that is pretty low (I live in the north texas area about 10 miles from the downtown area of the city).

    I guess it’s time I re-evaluate my budget and figure out more areas where I can save. Challenge accepted 🙂

  • Tim Richmond says:

    This definitely is a good way to look at things, but it also puts things into sort of a sad perspective. A lot of people have to live on that amount of money or less– I have not seen too many posted comments about having a low quality of life. You do, of course, offer good tips for maintaining good quality of life while spending less.


    I admire that you are not using government assistance because our family is a family of 6 with 2 dogs, and we use government assistance, even though the programs do not really provide enough assistance. Right now, I may am receiving Social Security benefits, but Im currently without a health insurance. My children and my husband are covered, and that s only thing matters to me because anything can happen to my children. I am not that worried about me because Im relatively healthy as I rarely go to doctors and emergency room departments.

    We are still struggling to flourish in this economy, and my husband is struggling to find a job due to his disability. I was a working “student” mom until I decided to stay at home to be here more often. Im currently studying pre-pharmacy, and hopefully, I can achieve this as to become a pharmacist to be able to provide for my family.

    We may have basic necessities and “luxuries” such as cell phones, cable, and so on, but I dont think my family are happy as they want more out of this life like with bigger house and fancier stuff. I believe it is due to the society in US that many people feel deprived due to the standards of being “wealthy.” I believe I will be more comfortable with being humble without those “fancier” stuff to fit in the society, but it is hard to teach the new generations of children how to live simple.

    Anyway, I just want to tell you that I truly admire you for taking care of your family well without using any of government assistances. You are an excellent mother and a wife. 🙂

  • Phil says:

    I live way under the poverty line but I’m not under any illusion that since I can do it everyone else can too. All it takes is one disaster when one lives on the edge to change one’s life from comfortable to misery. Whether that means a blown furnace (that happened to me) or a random serious health ailment.

    I personally think that the poverty line is way too low. The big deciding factor is health insurance. Unless you get it cheap through your employer or qualify for government assistance it does’t take much to wrack up a bill large enough to eat up an entire savings. Also the poverty line does not take into account how much it cost to get to work. In my case I have to go 40 miles one way for a part time job. There is just nothing closer. Half of my income goes to just getting to work.

    When the government came up with the idea of the poverty line in the first place health care was much cheaper and commuting more than 10 miles to work was unheard of. Also housing was much cheaper then.

    • Carol says:

      The poverty level changes each year. When it was created everything was much cheaper. I think a young healthy single person or couple would be able to live comfortably most places at the poverty level, but when you start adding children it becomes very difficult. The poverty level seems only to take into account food, but housing gets harder to find when you need more bedrooms and a safe place to live. Then clothing, entertainment, education, all much more difficult. All is based on affordable health care and having a suitable job, of course.

  • Carol says:

    If you moved back home the entire family income is counted.

  • michele says:

    Okay well I make 400 dollars more than the poverty line. I move out of my condo in April and I can’t live on my own without some assistance. But I can’t qualify for assistance because I make to much! I’m A single mother and work 7 days a week averaging 60 hour weeks! I have no debt and just the basics no tv. No internet just my cell phone and a 10 year old car and no medical insurance. I live in Colorado..Even a 500 sq ft studio is 650….and its be and my 4 year old son

    • Julie says:

      For most single parents and some couples with children you must factor in daycare costs which can quickly eat up a budget. Most single parents did not happily choose to raise children on their own. Many single parents do not receive any support from the sometimes completely absent parent.

  • Chelsea says:

    Health insurance at full premium through a group plan at work: $550/mo (I am considered uninsurable on all private plans)

    Cost of medications and medical supplies with insurance: 250/mo

    Cost of doctor visits: $30/month

    Cost of hospital bill repayments: $70/month

    Monthly income: $931

    Monthly health costs: $900

    I couldn’t live on $31/month. I would die. I am glad that I do not live under the poverty line.

    • And? says:

      If you were spending that much money to keep anything else running, you would have rid yourself of it long ago. It doesn’t sound like you have much quality of life with if so much of your income is spent just keeping you alive.

      I’m all about modern medicine, but on the other hand, there is something to be said for natural selection…

  • Jay says:

    Obviously, Mr. Miller has never had a water heater explode in the middle of the night, a blown headgasket on an automobile while about 500 miles from home, gutters ripped off from the facia due to an excessive ice storm, a prescription that costs $120 a month that an affordable healthcare plan doesn’t cover, or any number of life’s little surprises that take a huge bite out of a family’s monthly budget. Oh, and the affordable healthcare plan; $600 a month for a family of two. We dropped cable, downsized to just one cellphone, eliminated the house phone, eliminated one car, gave the dog away, share an internet connection with a neighbor and stay awake at night thinking of more ways to reduce our monthly outlay of cash. Does anyone else have more ideas as to what we can eliminate or reduce so that we can live on the published poverty level of $15,140 for a family of two? That’s about $1262 a month… my utilities, housepayment, health, auto, home and life insurances erase that figure immediately. I have been entertaining the thought of selling the house and renting, but rent and renters insurance are as much if not more than my current housepayment. Anyway, it is silly to try and convince people that it is possible to live at or below the poverty line for any length of time. Life happens. All it takes is one hospital stay that the health insurer refuses to pay for that can push a person to bankruptcy. Good luck to all of you trying to survive in this economy.

    • Tara says:

      Absolutely agree! Just ask my mother whose heart nearly stopped beating and the insurance company won’t cover the costs. Her medical bills would be literally ten times the poverty line for her THREE days in the hospital.

    • Jim Rizer says:

      I live in the Philippines now which is the only place I can afford to live.I have no luxuries. No cellphone or cable or tv.Just myself and my wife trying to get along on $753.Per month SS. I’m not in good health and am 78 years old.Life here is not easy but it’s all I can afford.

  • joe says:

    New York and other expensive cities have their own aid programs. For example one of my uncles recieves SSI because he is disabled. When he moved out of New York to Louisiana to be closer to family his SSI was reduced because he didn’t get the extra money New York gave him.

    • sara says:

      I’m sure it was reduced because it is much cheaper to live here in Louisiana than New York. My son and I live $1030 below the poverty line and we do fine. But, we also get assistance. Not much, but it helps. If my lazy, selfish ex would pay the child support he was ordered, we’d be doing better and I would not constantly be worried about the next emergency that may make us homeless.

  • Tara says:

    Living paycheck to paycheck at the poverty line is doable, yes. You can cover your daily expenses. You can even do it fairly comfortably if you’re lucky or if you live somewhere with a low cost of living. What this article fails to quantify is the STRESS of living that way. What happens when you get those unexpected expenses? What if your car goes? What if you get sick and can’t work. Can you afford health insurance? Can you afford the things health insurance won’t cover?

    I understand that the point is to live simply and save the rest for these expenses, but I think this article trivializes the plight of that 15% of people who doesn’t find living inexpensively a game.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      This article is not geared to those living at a poverty level income, and is not meant to trivialize the challenges of doing so. The point is that you can fairly comfortably live at a poverty level expense, and if earn above, it presents significant savings opportunity.

      Social commentary on the plight and stress of poverty is far beyond what this post was intended to discuss.

      • sbbama says:

        The point is you can not live comfortably on a low income in the US. Do you ever buy clothes, go to the doctor, pay health insurance or pay rent of 600 per month? Do you need an auto to make this amount of money and do you buy gas and maintain the auto?
        The real point is why do intelligent people posting on this website live on such pitiful wages. Why are profits going up and wages going down, what happened to the middle class?

  • Jim says:

    Heck my health insurance alone is 12k a year(self Employed, single dad to 3 boys). I currently live far about the poverty line, but have less free time and disposable income then many who live closer.

    As I read these things, I realize I am working far too hard for too little.

  • Greg says:

    Hi Mike
    I was browsing the web about poverty level income and came across the article you wrote.
    Just wanted to say thanks I appreciate your incites.

  • mom of 5 says:

    I manage to keep my family of 7 going on $2100 a month. It is super tight and we don’t get to go do a ton of activities, but I can certainly say is interesting and educational. We eat organic and gluten due to horrible food allergies and we homeschool too. We certainly love paycheck to paycheck. My husband works two jobs, but I couldn’t work if I wanted because we wouldn’t be able to afford daycare. When we bought our house 4 years ago my husband made 4 times his current income at one job and I worked full time. He was laid off and had to take whatever he could get and my job became obsolete (I used to be able to work from home and watch the kids.). All in all, we went from about $150, 000 a year down to $25, 000 without a reduction in house payment. We couldn’t afford the option we had for both control (due to my health issues) and the result is a large living family on next to no income. Our energy bill (on budget billing) is about $325 a month.

    • bs says:

      Couldn’t afford a condom or spermicide seriously?! “Love living paycheck to paycheck…” WTF?! I hope that’s a joke because I’ve experienced nothing more depressing & stressful than having to live like this especially once a child was added. When rent alone takes your monthly income leaving a choice between eating or having electricity shits not “fun” or “living” it’s misery!
      The guidelines are a lie & unrealistic they’re based on gross income which means shit because we pay these things called taxes. Some people take home right under the line, but are told they don’t “qualify” for help this doesn’t mean they can live on these bullshit guidelines.

  • trougnouf says:

    Everyone still needs to pay for medicare and SS tax. I made about 15k this year and I still had to pay 10% in taxes.

  • Rachel says:

    I began working and saving money when I was fifteen, and at 19 I was able to buy my own home, living below the poverty level. Now, two years and a promotion later, I make around $12,000 a year, and still live comfortably in my own home. I can afford to go out and even take the occasional vaccation/trip on that income. Of course, I have the benefit of free meals from my employer, so my grocery bill is about $30/month, and I drive a fully paid ’02. But I don’t feel deprived in any way. I have been extremely blessed.

  • T919 says:

    You mention “hubby had heart attacks”. How were they treated? You do or don’t have insurance? Did he not go to the hospital? I’m confused. You paid cash for the hospitals and Rx’s if any?

  • T. says:

    Now try to manage no income period. Ever wonder about the “No one left behind” comment? You did’nt build that! Example: The 99ers and beyond. Stress? Long term unemployed in some instances, more than two years or even three! I’m also referring to people who did not give up looking for work and continue. Some applied to over 200 jobs and still no results. Health ins.? Whats that? Something needs to change with the elimination of real jobs being exported out of the U.S. Where’s Congress? What’s really going on? At least I don’t have a mortgage or rent payment since I own. I’m going on two years unemployed and over 100 jobs applied for. Echoing the debate on gun control; we need real change! Happy job hunting! P.S. Unemployment insurance is poverty level. Thanks for the statistic. Something to think about. Gday,no worries mates!

    • sara says:

      What kind of jobs are you applying for? I just don’t believe after applying for over 100 jobs you didn’t get one. Unless, you don’t apply for jobs you think you are to good for, or to qualified for, or are beneath you. That is what the main problem is for most of the people complaining that there are no jobs. They simply will not even think of applying for something they feel is beneath them. Boo Hoo.

  • Kwyjibo says:

    “Could you Live Below Poverty Level?”

    You need to replace the word ‘live’ with the word ‘survive’.

    When you’re forced to forgo a cup of coffee at a shop with friends because you’ll need that 1.50 for the bus in the morning that will get you too work but won’t bring you back home because you don’t have another 1.50…then you’re not living…you’re just surviving.

    This is how those of us in poverty really live. It’s not some freakin’ game of ‘oh I’m all set up with my house and car and SO who also works so we’ve got a nice bank account and a 401K so LET’S SEE HOW MUCH WE CAN SAVE!!! YIPPEE!!!!…’ kind of game, people.
    This is real life for some of us…not some banal choice.

    • Carolyn says:

      It depends on your definintion. At least there is a bus. Poverty levels in the US are still higher than the average cost of living for the majority of the world.

      As for the specific example of the bus, I haven’t had a car for 10 years. Do I walk a lot? Yeah, in fact I walked 8 miles yesterday; but I don’t have a choice. Do I let it bother me? NO. I am capbable of doing it, so I do… and I don’t feel like I’m just “surviving.” I don’t go without food or basic bathroom ammenties. I just don’t have a car, cable, etc. And so what? I don’t need a car, cable, etc to survive. I still breath, ambulate, sweat, and bleed without those things. 🙂

      And $1.50 for coffee? That’s expensive. If you make it at home, it’s pennies on the dollar…

  • jeretta says:

    I make min wage 7.25 and a few tips wich is less than 10,000 a yr with three children to raise only on this income i do get food asstance I have to to eat. I did go to school and have a license to work where i do and make $300 every 2 weeks . and u just have no life when u work to be in poverty

  • jeretta says:

    who is not paying taxes?????????? or are u saying they are not paying in at the end of thr yr???

  • jeretta says:

    you are so right i aagree i was trying to say the same thing

  • manfred1946 says:

    Just a few words from across the pond,here in the U.K. we havethe same discussions with roughly the same outcom. our basic national wage is gbp 6.35 which is about 8-9 usd, it is as hard here asit seems to be in the USA, we have two main things that do differ , one good and one bad . petrol(gas) in the UK is now 7gbp, about 10 dollars a gallon. it fluctuates weekly but never seems to go down. and has a great bearing if you have to travel to, or look for work. the good is the National health service, all medicine is free, you may have to pay a charge for your prescription , currently 8gbp , but everything else , operations etc is free, it seems hard for most of us.

  • Catherine says:

    When I was in community college, I attended with almost exclusively middle class students who drove while I took the bus. One difficulty I encountered was being in that environment was difficult to try to explain your problems. I was taking a karate class and I could only afford one Gi, which was about 45 dollars. I would take it home and wash it once a week or so, but not everyday. One day the instructor spoke to the whole class about how gross it was to not wash your Gi everyday..but I knew he was thinking/talking about me. That is when I realized my trouble and I felt it was too hard to explain so I didn’t. Most of the other students went home to middle class homes with washers and dryers and could wash their Gi’ everyday. But every-time I washed something it cost 5.00. You can’t hand-wash a GI and have it be dry the next day. It is a huge thick canvas heavy thing. I was the only one there who couldn’t afford not to be “gross”. I was the only one without a cell phone. I had to stay at school all day because the bus took two hours (though I only lived 1/2 hour away by car). I didn’t have any friends at all. I made people uncomfortable. It’s better when I am in my own neighborhood then I am not such a freak.

  • Shannon M says:

    Can you expand on your expenses?

    Did you and your wife pay for health insurance or did you go without it or did you get covered at a job?
    Did you pay rent or did you have a mortgage?

    And your income:
    Did you both work?

  • Robbin says:

    Not really. You need to pay social security and FICA. That will reduce your net by about 10%.

  • Kahlilah says:

    I’m a single Mom of a 2 yr. old. I make 22,000 a yr. & about $6,000 in child support.. When contemplating on whether I should stay with my then boyfriend to go at it alone I looked up the poverty line for 2 living on the East coast & said Ok, I make a couple thousand more than that a year Sure! I can leave him because now that I was pregnant he suddenly stopped being loving much less considerate.. I soon realized that when doing the poverty level numbers for 2 they must’ve went on 2 adults who could easily make sacrifices & in a loving environment your entertainment as well as moral support can come from your adult partner.. But when you have a child with no support system relying on daycare from professional yet complete strangers you won’t even be able to get to work without paying them first!! There aren’t many necesities you can say no to with a who keeps growing & the more they grow the more they need.. as an adult I’ve basically stopped growing my weight & feet have been the same since my teen years so all the sacrificing I do goes straight to my sons needs.. I’d love to have $3000 at the end of the year I will absolutely try harder.. Oh’ & for the people who said that those of low income don’t pay taxes, We may get a tax break but for the past couple of years I’ve used my tax credit to pay bills from the previous year, And that’s without credit card debt for wants.

  • Sharon says:

    Hi, I am a 60 year old female that has been looking for work for over 2 years now. I do have an income because my mother died and left me her home. Out of that income comes property taxes and should also have insurance on the which I can not afford. My husband was the money maker and wanted me to be a stay at home mom, but when he left he left me with a run down house that I had to refinance to give him his equity. In the area I live in most of the rentals go for over what I pay for my house-payment so it would not not be advisable to move. I do not qualify for food stamps because I am a home owner. I do not qualify for medical help because I am a home owner. If I sold my house I would have to do a short sale as the value of the house was a lot more 11 years ago when he moved out. I have no working heater or air conditioner. My tenants have just informed me their air is out so if I had any money it would be going into that house. If I sell that house it would not cover what I owe on my mortgage and I would have absolutely no income. But I would still be a home owner and not qualify for any help. I don’t flush my toilets every time to save water. I do not water my lawn. I’m lucky if I have $3 a day for food so that usually consists of oatmeal for breakfast, usually no lunch and maybe a can of tuna on crackers for dinner. Please enlighten me where I can cut any more corners. My father was born in 1907 and I was raised not to waist a penny. We were served milk even if it had soured. We were served cereal even if it weavels in it. My dad would just say consider it free protein. So I am not a picky eater nor do I waist any food. So again please if you have any ideas I would appreciate hearing them.

  • Sally says:

    Hi there, I own out right my house, and everything else I have. Because I bought only what I could afford in the fist place. I have also been a single mom for the last 15 years. We can easily live at poverty level for 2, we have in the past, because I do not have a house payment, car payment etc. That is the secret, I guess.

    • Michael says:

      You are correct and I applaud the get rid of payments orientation. Most house holds would be able to survive if this was practiced. The variable is: is it a loss of job, or an injury that cannot be recovered from, to addiction, onto the best for last divorce. There are so many reasons why, just no answers to end the problem.

  • Michael says:

    I was struck by lightning in 1998 and it did a lot of damage. I only have two benefits: 1. SSDI because I am not hire-able without being a liability due to medications and I take falls. This after health insurance is $690 a month. 2. I do receive food benefits or my children would starve during my visitations. If we were to just count me that puts me at -$3210 on the line, adding my girls puts me at -$11,250 of the poverty line. It is time America realize our streets are not paved with gold and even in the nicest of communities people with their children are living starving and homeless.

  • redwoods says:

    Interesting article, and interesting comments too, from everyone.

    I think this article is more about voluntary frugality; that is, those who choose to live a simple, frugal life. It’s a lot easier to live with little money and still enjoy the quality of life if one does it as a choice, instead of a necessity.

    Some people can derive a lot of pleasure from choosing to live at the poverty level and save/invest the rest of their income. But for someone who has to live at the poverty level, it’s much harder.

    BTW, I was curious about the poverty level in the US for 2014, and my search led me to this site. Thanks for your article!

  • James says:

    I am confused, our expenses have nothing to do with the poverty level. The poverty level is the set of guidelines for a person to meet a specific standard as defined by the Census Bureau as the level require to sustain that standard. You are under the poverty level if you earn less than that much per year.

    Regardless of your expenses as long as your combined income is more than that defined for your level (in the case of 2 people $15,730/year) you are not in poverty. Both people working an earning $7.25 an hour have to only work a combined total of 41.7 hours a week total to be at the poverty line (That is just 21 hours for each to work to meet the minimum per week at the base of $7.25). If you spend more than you make, you are not below the poverty line. Most people interpret poverty as their income deficit which has nothing to do with being able to meet the minimum standards as defined to be at poverty.

    For each person after the first you add just over $4000 becuase things like housing cost are figured into the first persons as each person takes advantage of it, thus they have less need. So the trick to get above the poverty line is to have more people in the house who don’t work (thus the impact of kids, even though child support in most states only figure about $1500 to cover a childs monthly expense, what gives there is odd as I rarely spend more than $200-500 average per month per child to care for their needs including clothing, and food and that tells me the Census values are suspect to begin with).

    The reality is a family of 4 which is the average listed needs to earn $23,850 to be at the poverty line. At $7.25 an hour with both parents working, they only need to work 63.26 hours per week to meet that minimum to get about the poverty line. That is 32 hours a week per person. The reason many people are below the poverty line is not because they cannot get above it at minimum wage, they choose that both parents will not work and the one cannot get enough overtime to reach the level (16 hours extra in a job that pays 1.5 on overtime). And those numbers are based on opportunity which is why Alaska and Hawaii have different values.

    Another factor for some folks being counted below the poverty line is tips wages, they are paid a $2.13/hour base wage and there are a lot of people who work in tipped professions who don’t report their tips accurately. So another loophole for being under the poverty level and not actually being so if they could properly capture the amounts.

    Another point is that people on welfare do not have their welfare bennefits included in their income and it is not used in factoring if they are under the poverty line or not. I am sorry but this is an income mount that offsets their out go and thus IMHO should be used to factor if a person is or is not under the line. A huge amount of the percentage would not be if that was included.

    Reality as most people are not in poverty, they just feel that way becuase they over extend themselves for wants and not needs. Even a stay at home mom is a want and not a need to the calculation. Additionally once the child is in school those parents can get part-time jobs to meet and even exceed being under the poverty line.

    To me, more data needs to be evaluated and that the poverty line to correctly capture who is truly suffering in this country.

  • Kit says:

    This is a crock. You cannot pay all your bills, eat healthy, or do co-pays for prescriptions at this level.

  • Lawrence says:

    I am 50 years old.
    So not young nor am I old.
    The poverty levels I see represented here are misleading as to true poverty.
    A person in true poverty usually does not own their own home. An if they have a vehicle usually it is between 10 to 20 years old either bought from a private person or from some dealership who does not particularly care about your credit rating and will let you pay 125 a month over 3 years to pay for it.
    I live on roughly 1644 a month this is combined disability and foodstamps.
    my rent is 545 a month for 1 bedroom 900 square foot house
    I have cable/ internet and phone at about 200 a month
    electricity about 150 a month
    Natural gas 20 a month
    Car payment of 225 a month
    and insurance for auto 65 a month
    payment for a bed of 104 a month
    So that is just about 1309 a month for a family of 3 before food costs and basic necessities like clothing, shoes, medical costs or anything else.
    Could I cut out some expenses?
    sure could give the automobile back and not pay 225 a month for that and so that would cut out auto insurance
    that would same me 290 a month.
    I could send the bed back that would be another 104 save.
    So now we up to 394 saved.
    I could cut out our cable/ phone and internet and that would save another 200 a month.
    So that’s 490 I could cut out.
    But when we get down to the nitty gritty is it reasonable?
    Not it is not reasonable.
    Because the reality is for everyone I cut out I cut a need or I cut an opportunity.
    I cut cable that cuts phone/ internet and those are both work opportunities and ability to be available for work.
    I cut out car payment. I got no way to work. Last job I had to travel 50 miles each way.
    So we need to define what is truly poverty.
    under 25 thousand a year is poverty for a family of 3 not this BS number of 19,790. If you based your numbers off of gross income. This how the government bases all it’s numbers is off gross income before taxes or any deductions.
    I we broke it down to net income and not gross net income. The poverty number becomes a lot higher.
    For those saying those at or below poverty do not pay taxes. I am truly sorry for your lack of education. For all who are working do have taxes ( FICA, SSI ) Deducted out of every paycheck. The government retains and draws interest off that money. We file returns and based on the current ratios get back our money. When you are at poverty that tax return money goes to paying off bills or back child support and you may get lucky if everything went exceptional well and you had not debt to pay off. You can take a weekend and go out with the family and have a little money left to tuck away for the next unexpected bill to come along or medical expense the Medicaid in my case ( Molina ) will not pay for or decide due to your age you do not need to have.
    So when we discuss we need to discuss true poverty and living with real poverty. WE need to include the actual basics of rent or purchasing a home in the very real every day costs. If you own a home your over all costs per month are cheaper than my rent and that is taking into account maintenance and property taxes. Their average are about is usually 60% less than those who are paying rent. when all said and done the average home owner paying water/ garbage and sewer and a percentage of property taxes average in cost about 451 or a bit less per month combined. In my state most would be closer to about 325 a month. Which is far less than even the average rent on a studio apartment.

  • lisa says:

    I think your calculations are a bit askew.
    The FPL is gross income. NOT expenditures.
    Take taxes/medical insurance out of the FPL and that’s what they have left over to spend on life expenses.
    I’m sure the numbers in the chart would be MUCH lower after calculating the above.That’s why I feel the AGI is more accurate as it takes into acct medical ins/taxes paid out.

    Comparing your expenses to the FPL is not comparing apples to apples.

  • Janice says:

    So what is the number (salary) when you see 400% below poverty level?

  • Janice says:

    For one person,please see my above question

  • Maureen says:

    Julie, In would love to live in New York City, even Queens, but how does one find a “rent-controlled” apartment?

  • Katherine says:

    Well said…living in a one horse town is cheaper than living in a metropolitan city. I live in Los Angeles. The cost of living is higher.

  • Living says:

    I’ve read a vast majority of all of these comments.
    I grew up in the upper middle class (I am aged 31 now.) Both of my parents were successful. We lived in a house that they paid off and we always had running vehicles. We never went without.

    I am disabled. I receive disability and food stamps along with Medicare/Medicaid. I am engaged. My fiance works full time and our income (combined my SSDI, foodstamps and his earnings) we net less than $20,000 a year. He is not insured as we can not afford it. The insurance I get is not great, I’m not complaining too much because I am not paying for it.

    We have one car that we own, we rent our home. We both have cell phones (his is a smart, mine is not. Neither are government phones.)

    Our rent is $600 plus utilities that vary greatly. We have internet, no tv service.

    We try and save money, but our savings have been drained due to normal life things happening. His car was totaled in an accident and we were able to get another from the insurance money and I had saved up enough to buy another after mine blew up, but I ended up selling it because it was breaking down. Our current car needs repairs that we can not afford right now. I estimate our car will die within six months. Despite having Medicare/Medicaid, I still have medical bills because they won’t cover many things. On top of that my fiance has to take off work to bring me to appointments occasionally and I get very sick often. Its come down to him almost losing his job because for a couple of months I was extremely sick and his job threatened him because he missed a bit of work.

    We don’t eat great, but it’s not bad either.

    We live above the poverty income, but we are still very much in poverty. We aren’t miserable, but we aren’t happy either.

    The house we rent is essentially a studio, in a poor neighborhood. I had to rent a PO box because our mail was getting stolen and people have tried to break into our house. Earlier this year some one syphoned the gas out of our gas tank.

    We are one disaster away from being homeless. Our car breaks down before we save enough, he loses his job. I get sick and he takes off of work, he loses his job. He gets sick, he loses his job. I’ve tried working but no employer is willing to work with me. Now that we are down to one car, me having a job would be impossible because no employer wants me because I can only work around my fiance’s schedule. There is no public transportation in the town I live, and I live outside of city limits because we can not afford the rent in town.

    Living at the poverty line is possible, but it’s not living it’s surviving. The stress is killing us. We sit and ponder ways to cut back on everything. We don’t go out often because that uses gas and costs money. I’ve tried to cut back our cell phone bills as much as possible, when our contract is up we are going to prepaid because it will save us $30 a month. We worry and wonder what we will do if something catastrophic happens.

    This article and many comments talk about saving money. Its hard to save money when you have none to save. We have $45 in our savings account right now.

  • Cinda says:

    I find this article and comments very interesting. It seems to me that IF your monthly healthcare expenses are manageable the rest of it is about choice. Where you choose to live, where you choose to shop, what you choose to need in life to make you happy. I have known a family with 10 kids and a $50,000 a year income very happy, with savings and their own home. I have also heard of a Dr. (On Dave Ramsey’s radio show) making $250,000 a year, with a wife and 4 kids, ready to file bankruptcy and clueless as to how to cut his budget. I think most of us would find the Doctor’s income extravagant. My point isn’t to condemn the Dr, but to point out that these 2 families have made very different choices. At the end of the day, most excuses are just an unwillingness to make different choices. We don’t want to move to a less expensive community, drive a cheaper car, or give up whatever. I also think that’s ok as long as we are taking care of ourselves (with or without legitimate government assistance.) The secret seems to be in our attitude.


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