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Poverty line, or poverty threshold, is used to mark the minimum income needed to achieve a satisfactory standard of living. While this may mean different thing in different parts of the world, in the US, being above this threshold means having access to water, food, shelter, education, medical care, and adequate clothing. The poverty line varies widely depending on the state, the number of people living in the household, the number of children in the household, and factors like disability and access to medical care.
In the US, the poverty line rises or falls every year according to the Consumer Price Index and other factors. In 2010, a single person needed to earn a minimum of $11,139 US Dollars (USD) (more in Alaska and Hawaii) a year to stay over the threshold. A family of four needed a combined income of at least $22,113 USD. According to these guidelines, more than 46.2 million people in the US were living in poverty in that year.
Individuals who fall below the poverty line often lack basic things like microwaves, clothes dryers, and computers. Research has found that 91% of these families own a color TV and 52% own a stereo, however. Close to 90% of Americans in poverty have regular access to food, either through food stamps or food assistance programs like soup kitchens. A much higher percentage lack access to medical care, and while a few may be admitted into Medicaid or other government programs, most are not. This is especially true of adults, as children and the elderly have an easier time obtaining free medical care.
On an interesting note, 46% of individuals who fall under the poverty line own their own homes. This is a percentage similar to the one obtained from people who own an acceptable income and do not receive government assistance. Of that 46%, some own a mobile home, and some own a three-bedroom home, although the general condition of the housing can vary widely. Many people who live in poverty are in urgent need for basic household repairs, such as a roof replacement or a pipeline fitting, and must do without them.
Critics of the current system used to determine the poverty threshold argue that the percentage of people living in poverty is actually much higher than what it seems. This is because the line does not take into consideration certain factors such as rent or the median price of a home. In other words, the threshold in the United States is the same, no matter what the cost of living in the area is (with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii). If the calculation did take these factors into account, they argue, the percentage of Americans living in poverty would likely be much higher.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the poverty line in the United States?
The poverty line in the United States is a threshold set by the federal government to define the minimum income necessary to cover basic needs. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2023 poverty line for a family of four is $27,750. This figure is adjusted annually for inflation and varies depending on family size and composition.
How is the U.S. poverty line calculated?
The U.S. poverty line is calculated using a formula developed in the 1960s by Mollie Orshansky. It is based on the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, multiplied by three to account for other family expenses. The calculation is updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index. This method has been critiqued for not fully capturing current economic realities, but it remains the official measure.
Does the poverty line vary by state or region?
While the poverty line is the same across the contiguous United States, there are variations for Alaska and Hawaii due to their higher cost of living. For example, the 2023 poverty line for a family of four is $34,680 in Hawaii and $34,380 in Alaska. However, the poverty line does not adjust for regional cost-of-living differences within the contiguous states, which can lead to disparities in how poverty is experienced geographically.
What factors are considered in determining the U.S. poverty line?
The primary factor considered in determining the U.S. poverty line is food cost, which is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's economy food plan. The assumption is that food constitutes one-third of total household expenses. However, this calculation does not directly consider other costs such as housing, healthcare, education, or regional cost of living, which can significantly affect a family's financial situation.
How does the poverty line impact government assistance programs?
The poverty line is used as an eligibility criterion for various government assistance programs. For instance, programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) use the poverty line to determine who qualifies for aid. Being above or below the poverty line can significantly impact an individual's or family's access to these critical support services.