What is the 2022 US Poverty Line? (Federal Poverty Line)

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 $2,000 ($2,400 per year). If I subtract the cash back credit card rewards I am getting (I average about 3%), the average drops to $1,940 per month, or $23,280 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 U.S. Federal Poverty Level 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 guidelines

Rather, I wanted to see how close I was from a cost of living expense standpoint to the poverty income guidelines. What does the U.S. government view as “poverty” or “poor” (or, at least poor enough to be eligible for federal assistance). Am I living below that income level (assuming zero taxes)? Could I live below that level?

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

2022 U.S. Poverty Guidelines (Federal Poverty Level)

The numbers adjust every year. Here are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines for eligibility for related government programs:

Family Size:48 Contiguous States & D.C.:Alaska:Hawaii:
1$13,590$16,990$15,630
2$18,310$22,890$21,060
3$23,030$28,790$26,490
4$27,750$34,690$31,920
5$32,470$40,590$37,350
6$37,190$46,490$42,780
7$41,910$52,390$48,210
8$46,630$58,290$53,640
each additional person, add:$4,720$5,900$5,430

As you can see, the level changes with the number of household members. Each year, the poverty guidelines are increased/decreased due to changes in the CPI (a measure of inflation). In most cases, these numbers go up annually.




2021 U.S. Poverty Guidelines (Federal Poverty Level)

If you’re looking for the 2021 federal poverty guidelines, they are as follows:

Family Size:48 Contiguous States & D.C.:Alaska:Hawaii:
1$12,880$16,090$14,820
2$17,420$21,770$20,040
3$21,960$27,450$25,260
4$26,500$33,130$30,480
5$31,040$38,810$35,700
6$35,580$44,490$40,920
7$40,120$50,170$46,140
8$44,660$55,850$51,360
each additional person, add:$4,540$5,680$5,220

What Percentage of Americans Live in Poverty?

According to the U.S. Census, 11.4% of Americans live in poverty, or with incomes that are below the federal poverty levels highlighted above.

Are Our Expenses Below the Income Poverty Line?

At $23,280 in annual expenses, compared to $18,310 in income (current federal poverty line for a 2-person household), we’re not quite there, but we’re close. Could we get there? Yes. We’d have to cut about $4,970 annually, just under $414 monthly, out of our expenses.

As it is, I feel like our quality of life is pretty rich, even at these expense levels. We cook up great organic vegetarian meals, enjoy an occasional bottle of wine or homebrew, have a nice home in a desirable community, we have multiple mobile devices, high-speed internet, fancy 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 $414 per month out of our expenses would not be overly 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 maybe even appealing my property taxes with city hall. These are all things that are on my to-do list.

This thought experiment is not to compare to or diminish the pain that can be felt while living in poverty. There is effectively a poor tax that is very real. Also, it’s not even a fair comparison. I live in a lower cost of living state. I’ve spent well over a decade optimizing my finances. And I have savings to pad any emergency or big ticket items.

However, there are plenty of opportunities for Americans to drive expenses lower without sacrificing quality of life. The median household income in the U.S. is $67,521 – yet almost 100% of it is spent per year! That’s the point here. Americans typically spend more than what they need to in order to live a comfortable lifestyle and far more than what they would need to if they were “living in poverty”. When cutting your expenses to low levels, it’s possible to become more immune to economic factors that are out of your control, which can often impact your income levels. And you might even have a little fun in the process and give back to those more in need.

Could you Live Below the Poverty Level?

Regardless of your income levels,

  • Are your annual expenses below poverty line or near it? 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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