Good Question: Why Is The Poverty Line Just $11,000?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More Americans than ever before are living below the poverty line, and 544,000 Minnesotans are there too. But how is the poverty line determined?

“It was determined by the money a household spent on food,” said Marcia Fink, Director of Basic Needs at Greater Twin Cities United Way. “It was created on some data from the 1950s and 1960s.”

When the poverty line was first created, Americans spent about 1/3 of their household budget on food. So government officials took the average cost of a year’s spending on basic food needs, and multiplied it by three.

Today, the official federal government poverty threshold, as per the Census Bureau, is $11,344 for a single person, or $22,314 for a family of four.

“Things, lives have changed so dramatically. Food doesn’t make up 1/3 of a household budget,” said Fink.

Housing costs, transportation, childcare expenses have all gone way up in expense, leaving food as a much smaller percentage of household spending.

In modern times, many experts say we spend 1/6 of our budget or 1/7 on food.

That’s why the “poverty line” of $22,314 is so hard to fathom.

“Can you imagine living off that? You can’t, not really,” said Fink.

To make $22,314 in a family of four, both parents would have to work 30 hours a week in minimum wage $7.25/hr jobs. But Fink and other researchers, like those at Jobs Now Minnesota, argue that the real cost of basic needs in Minnesota for a family of four is more like $56,000 – $58,000 a year.

“That’s a much more realistic number,” said Fink.

Federal agencies use various multipliers of the poverty line to determine eligibility for aid. One in four Minnesotans, or 1.3 million, are now living in households that are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

But while those people are likely struggling to meet basic needs, that doesn’t mean that they’re all homeless.

“What the poverty line does not incorporate are the benefits people are entitled to when you hit those low levels of income,” said Fink.

According to a report by the Heritage Foundation, using government statistics, 46 percent of those classified as below the poverty line are people who own their own homes.

“For example, more than 70 means-tested welfare programs provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income persons, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, the Women, Infants and Children food program, public housing and Medicaid,” said the report.

They argue, “Poor families clearly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and cable TV while putting food on the table.”

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Mike

    And 88% of the members of the Heritage Foundation hide their tax burdens from the US government , have multiple homes and are amongst the most wealthy people in the country.

    • Norge

      “And 88% of the members of the Heritage Foundation hide their tax burdens from the US government” 96% of all internet ‘facts’ are made up on the spot, and you’re fooling no-one with your left-wingey-dingey nonsense.

  • Jeanna

    Are you kidding Ellen????? I live in an area where a large percentage of working people live in poverty and the majority of us do not use drugs or have cable TV or smoke cigarettes. Comments like that just show the ignorance of some people in this county!!

    • Balance Please

      Why would you chastise Ellen for making a blanket statement about poor people having money for cigarettes, using drugs and having cable TV but say nothing about Mike’s comment claiming members of the Heritage Foundation are tax cheats, have multiple homes and are amoung the most wealthy?
      Both statements are founded with the same amount of fact.

  • KeepItReal

    Child care costs have not gone up since the 50s/60s. Peoples desire to live different lifestyles changed, which now includes childcare costs. While 11K isn’t much money, personal choices on when to have children, what to eat, what to wear, how to spend free time, spending habits, etc. is what has changed, costs are relatively constant (after inflation.)

    • Pete

      That sounds correct. It is not so much that the costs have gone up as that wages have declined in real value for decades. Oddly the cost of most kinds of labor has risen faster than wages It must be very difficult to be poor in a market driven economy. The bottom line is, that no matter what number “really” is the poverty line is set i Congress who will decide the actual amount sent out.

  • me

    I would love to see someone like Mike and Ellen experience what it truly is to be empoverished. There are many many empoverished people as there are rich people who are into drugs. As far as cable tv…I dont’ care how much money a person has or doesn’t have. It’s an excuse to get away from going outside and mingling with nature. It’s an excuse to escape society and people ( I’ll even add the internet in this mix because some people don’t know how to live unplugged from any electronic device)

    Cable TV should be made illegal as far as I’m concerned. But then that’s just my opinion, in a sea of many. Just remember one thing…Rich/Poor doesn’t have anything to do with Drugs period.

    • Willow

      Please take your Marxism elsewhere, like Cuba, where it would be welcomed with open arms.

    • Dave's Not Here

      “Cable TV should be made illegal as far as I’m concerned.”

      Dumbest Comment of the Day Award Winner!!

      Congratulations! It is rare that this esteemed award is given out before noon on any given day. Way to go!!

  • Matt

    There shouldn’t be a different poverty line for “a family of four”. If these people don’t have enough money for themselves, they shouldn’t be having kids. There are a lot of people living in poverty that were at least responsible enough to not have kids and yet its the people who make the selfish decision to have kids when they don’t have the means to have them that get the most help. We should help people out MORE when they don’t have kids versus helping the ones that do have kids.

    • Dave's Not Here

      I wish I would have seen matt’s comment prior to handing out the Dumbest Comment of the Day Award.

      Bummer. But if you’re really this stupid, you’ll have plenty more chances to win!!

    • Richard in Minneapolis

      And what are those people who had kids BEFORE they entered the ranks of the impoverished supposed to do? Shoot the kids? Surrender them for adoption? A lot of people in the ranks of the poor were doing fine before the latest recession.

  • An

    poor people have NO business having children it’s a crime to bring people into this world unless you can care for them. Stop Scre#$ing you dopes!

    • Bill

      2nd that

    • meow

      Why we MUST have abortion.

    • GH


    • Tabitha

      I am going to say it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor and having kids. I know both poor and rich people that DO NOT take care of their kids. Being poor has nothing to do with how people care for thier children.
      Isn’t the goal of raising children, giving them love? I know a hell of a lot of kids that come from upper class families and a lot of poor ones. The kids all turn out the same in the end. It is a CHOICE.
      I believe their are people in every level of earnings and in every culture that shouldn’t be having kids.
      And we need to also, look at that hundreds of thoudsands of people out their, that were not in the so called poor class until they lost their jobs.
      It comes down to a choice and how you look at your life. Not rich or poor.

  • xxx

    It is so easy to make very unkind comments about folks when you and or your spouse have excellent jobs and a nice savings account. But when the winds of change fall in on a person and wipe everything out, you are then looking at the other side of the window.
    Poverty today – shold be defined as the prison and or lack of choice that is no longer available to anyone who can not pay for basic needs and can no longer do the things that they want to do, but can only do the things that they can to simply survive.

    Commen on – uncaring readers. Maybe your jobs disapper, your investments go bad, the tax collector takes everyting, or your health fails and your health insurance is lost and the Drs and hospitals take what little is left.

    Be careful on your comments because one day you may be the one on the sidewalk looking up asking for help.

    You think it can’t happen to you? Maybe?

    • Willow

      I temped for 10 years for a living. When I lost a temp job, I immediately sought out another one. I have done jobs I hated in order to make ends meet.

      This is the real problem with society. It’s selling the lie to college kids that they can have your perfect dream jobs. You can’t always have that. You may have that for a certain time in your life, but it’s not going to be permanent.

      Being single, I didn’t have anyone else to depend upon but me. I would rather work 3 horrible jobs than take welfare.

    • An

      Even so I would not have more children than I could care for, condoms daddy their called condoms.

  • Rob

    How many servers out there don’t claim their tips? I know several. When they don’t, they often fall below that poverty line.

  • Katie

    You do realize that not everyone who is poor now, with children, were always poor, correct? My husband and I have been struggling for a few years. We are a family of 4. He was laid of for 2.5 years and we didn’t use government assistance and we were living off of 1 income. Before the recession we were pretty well off. The price of everything has gone up while many people’s wages have gone down (mine included). Sure, there are definitely people who abuse using assistance and pop out a bunch of kids to get more of that assistance. Unless you personally know people doint this, you really need to stop generalizing entire groups like poor families when, really, you don’t know what’s really happening for each, individual family. Life happens – unexpected things. I hope that none of you have to go through the hardship that a lot of other families are going through right now.

    • Dave's Not Here

      Why didn’t he work?

    • Real Talk

      AMEN….you can NOT equate poor with lazy. Some are, some arent. Just like any group of people…you can find good and bad.

      The part i find the most ironic is those who post less than compassionate comments on here are probably the same people going to church on sunday and identify themselves as “christians”…..that’s cute.

      • Paul

        What’s ironic is your lack of self-awareness. Your words against Christians is a pretty broad and harsh stereotype for someone speaking out against broad and harsh stereotypes.

        • Jim

          Did you even read his comment? If so, how you possibly interpreted what he said like you did, I will never understand. His comment ONLY applied to those who call themselves Christians and yet are less than compassionate to others less fortunate. You might have a case if he used words like, “all christians”, but he didn’t. So maybe next time, read the comment, then take a second or two to comprehend exactly what is being said before you hop on your high horse all righteous.

        • Real Talk

          @ Paul…how is pointing out irony = “words against Christians.” You sir are a complete moron and i pray you remove yourself from the population ASAP.

          I have nothing but respect for all religions…just not the hypocrites.

          • markH

            I respect ideas that encourage compassion, generosity, and human solidarity-I do not respect superstitious ideas that tell innocent children that they are born guilty of “sins” that they had no part in and must accept human sacrifice to inherit eternal life or else suffer eternal torture and damnation. There is nothing in the Christian ideas that warrant respect-all the truly good ideas (love your neighbor, be generous with what you have, help the poor and down trodden) can be had without the superstitious and divisive nonsense. Peace.

    • Tabitha

      I agree 100%.

  • irritated

    I am a white college student renting on my own. I pay my own electricity and utility bills. I’ve earned honors in my degree and work hard everyday. By technicality, I fall under the poverty line with my minimum wage job.

    Don’t be so quick to assume that anyone under the poverty line wastes their money on drugs and booze.

    • Dave's Not Here

      I could be wrong, but I don’t think full time college students count towards the full time worker poverty line numbers.

      • Reality sucks

        Nope, and “irritated” never will. Thanks to his common sense, drive, and temporary pain– which he doesn’t claim being among the oppressed. He will prosper and not require the asiistance of others. He will not become dependent, although he will be depended upon. Good job irritated.

  • yallsuk

    Yall suk.

  • martha

    May your turn come soon, very very soon.

    • can we get a amen

      How very “Christian” of you martha.

    • @ martha

      No tooth of frog, eye of toad, wishing, hexing, or other toils will make your destructive disires come true. But, turning your mind around and hoping for the best, may make you a better citizen.

    • thatsgottahurt

      May 1,000 Arabian ants invade your arsehole!

  • Mark

    My income from my 22 year carreer recently went from 55,000 a year to an unemployed 5,000 a year due to proven harassing foreman and my resigning my job. I moved to a small town where I have a home to save money but there are very few jobs up here. I never had children on account that I didn’t think that I was responsible enough to have them. And when I went on food assistance I quit my two pack a week smoking habit and I also quit any and all drinking! I also gave up the Dish TV and discontinued my phone service but I use the internet and VoIP.

    At 49, interviews are few and far between. I live off of retirement savings and pay the extra ten percent tax penalty.
    At my age of 49, this is the longest I’ve ever went without work and

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