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The measure by which we judge poverty is a fraud of statistics. It blinds us to the depth and breadth of poverty in America, undermines our solutions and gives comfort to those who wish to ignore or capitalize on the poverty-making engines of our society.  

For almost 50 years, our official US Census Poverty Threshold - the line above which everyone is considered ‘not poor' - has been simply based on a pre-tax income less than ‘three times a  thrifty basket of food’. When you hear a news report on the rate of poverty in America, this is the statistic you are being quoted.

According to this official measure of poverty, 20% of Americans are now below the poverty line. But I will argue here that the real number of poor Americans - those who can no longer pay for all their basic needs - is really around 35-40%. Another 10-15% are in danger of joining them, should their annual earnings decline or collapse, or should extraordinary costs impact them. So fully half the population of this country is either in poverty or at risk of ending up in poverty, should significant misfortune or an unexpected ‘bad break’ befall them.

Federal poverty levels are so far out of line with actual basic living costs, that rent alone would consume the annual salary of anyone living below the poverty threshold.  You simply cannot afford to rent an apartment anywhere in America , if your income is below the poverty level, never mind also pay for food, health care, transportation, heat and electricity.

When governments under-report poverty, they also underfund social programs meant to address and mediate issues around poverty. Even when you advocate on their behalf, using the federal poverty line undermines political support to address the problems of the poor and popular understanding of a socio-economic crisis. Particularly one as severe as the bottom half of our economy is experiencing right now.  

It leads policy makers to ignore economic reality for up to half of America and produce ‘solutions’ that either make problems worse or leave too many out in the cold. By under-reporting poverty, we have blinded ourselves to the depth of our economic problems.

In this diary, I will detail and compare the current cost of essential human needs, to the US Census Poverty Threshold, the HHS Poverty Guidelines, using mostly government price records to determine two family budgets - one a single male, 18-50 and a family of 4, with two children. I will also compare those budgets with Census statistics for household income, to arrive at my larger estimates of poverty.

Please read on....

A Definition of Poverty
What is poverty? Poverty is not having enough resources to attend to the basic needs of living. In a capitalist society, that means being economic self-sufficient, by one means or another. In a cash economy, that means enough money to pay your bills and otherwise participate in the economic life of your society. In a twenty-first century economy, that also means ready access to communications and the internet.  And in an economy being remodeled by neglect, into a landscape of temporary, part-time and contracted labor practices, that also means a reserve for those times when there is no income and there is no support.

In theory - or at least ‘in rhetoric’ - the purpose of a social program in a capitalist society is to triage the crisis of poverty, attend to the problems of surplus labor and help the poor become economically self-sufficient.  Contrary to popular opinion, poor people do have rights in society, thanks to local, national and international human rights and social welfare law. So who we designate as ‘poor' and who we don't, will have a profound effect on anyone who is eligible for rights, protections and assistance. Or, if excluded from being defined as 'poor,' who must survive or drown on their own.

When too many people are poor in an economy, it has profound and usually devastating consequences for everyone. In a collapsing economic environment, poverty breeds poverty. So failure to accurately count everyone in economic danger has profound social and political consequences as well. I will go into the socio-economic and political effects of poverty in a later diary. Some of them should be self-evident.

For now, let’s focus on the gap between economic realities and our federal measures of poverty, let’s see what the current poverty thresholds look like.

The US Census Poverty Threshold
For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘poverty threshold’ means the maximum income you can make in a year and still be seen as ‘poor’ by the state. Being recognized as ‘poor’ gives you standing and rights in our economic and legal system - through our human rights - as well as making you eligible for assistance in times of need.

Now compare your family budget to the offical US Census Poverty Threshold in the 48 states today (as of December 2010):

                                Max                   Pro-rated
                                Household        Household
Size                        annual               monthly
Household             income              income
unit                         level                   level
1                        10,890             907.5
2                        14,710             1225.83   
3                        18,530             1544.17   
4                        22,350             1862.5
5                        26,170             2180.83
6                        29,990             2499.17
7                        33,810             2817.5
8                        37,630             3135.83   

For each additional person, add    3,820

If you earned more than these sums, you are not poor, according to the federal government.

Now try to fit your basic living costs - shelter, food, heat/hot water, electricity, phone, health care, education and sufficient savings/retirement to manage the normal bumps of life, the very recipe for economic self-sufficiency - below our current poverty thresholds. Be honest. You can't. The only way to get your budget under these numbers is to sacrifice a critical need, like food, shelter or heat.    

Welcome to the world of poverty economics.  Remember that when you feel the urge to give advice to a poor person on how to 'better manage their money.' They have more experience than you. They know what's being sacrificed, far better than you ever will.

At the level of policy, we know this poverty threshold is a false number. This is why different programs use different multipliers (133%, 150%, 200%) of the official poverty threshold or the HHS poverty guidelines, in order to reconcile our poverty measures with economic reality and apportion aid.  But even then, they are all based on a false number, that is - in turn - based on a false ‘rule of thumb’, three times a weekly and thrifty basket of food.  And as we shall see further on, perhaps even that number is false.

The best way to tackle the veracity of this statistical problem, is to itemize basic living expenses as the market defines them - and as government reports them - to see where the gap is between the cost of living and our current measures of poverty.  The first number will tell us where the line of self-sufficiency is and who is at risk. By comparing those costs to the federal poverty measures, we can see how many people may be missing from the stats. And from there, we will have a better sense of the problem.

Along the way, we will touch on the economic stressors and ‘budget busters’ that become the land mines for the poor and everyone else who is falling into poverty.  By comparing real living costs against the measure of poverty and then comparing it to US Census figures on household income, we can make a more reasonable guess about the depth and breadth of poverty in America today.

The central question driving this piece is how many people in this country do not earn enough to be economically self-sufficient?

In order to answer that question, we need to first ask ourselves, “how much do things cost?”

The Cost of Living
To answer this question, let's first remind ourselves of what 'poor’ means. It means you don't have enough money to cover necessary expenditures. You are not economically self-sufficient.

We need to be honest about what resources are needed in 2011 for someone to even be able to participate in the economy, get a job, get to work, etc. For the purposes of discussion, I will use two budgets: a single male 18-50 and a family of four, 2 adults, two children.

My numbers have been drawn as much as possible from government or industrial data, such as price reports, average expenses and other data. Where my research skills failed to find a government number for a specific need, I surveyed industrial research and made my ‘best guess’ for the purposes of discussion.  

Most of the data used comes from 2008-2009, though they are all the most current government data. Some of it - particularly housing stresses - was gathered before the roof came in on the housing market. I erred to the lowest cost report, when ever ‘official measures’ contradicted other data. So my budget numbers, overall, should be seen as low, even if one number strikes you as potentially high. Where possible, I point out how these numbers are not truly reflective of current cost.

Let’s start with costs we can all agree are critical to human existence: food, shelter, clothing, heat/utilities, basic communication technology, transportation and health care.  The subtotal reflects those costs. To that number I will add a modest number for savings and retirement, since life never goes to plan and one day we will all be too old to work.

Education will not be added to this budget - yet - so the biggest budget busting figure is still missing. Yet without education, those who are poor or near poor will have great difficulty of ever reaching economic self-sufficiency.

Consider how my very modestly defined budget compares to the US Census Poverty Threshold, the HHS poverty measure (a baseline for social programming) and the annual wage of someone working full-time (35 hours, paid) at minimum wage before taxes:


Expenses                                                     Annual Cost               Annual Cost
                                                                      Single Adult               Family of 4

 Rent/mortgage : 775-1,400 mth          9,300-16,800           9,300-16,800
 health care                                            4,824                       13,375
 Food                                                     2,616                         6,144
 clothing                                                   575                         2,410
 heat                                                     1,810                         1,810
 electric  - average: $103.67per month        1,244                         1,244
 Telephone/Cell Phone                                 360                            480
 Internet - 30/40 - estimate                      360/480                   360/480
 Transportation/car                                8,487                         8,487

Subtotal:                                         29,576-37,196           43,730-51,230

savings/emergencies: 200/400 month           2,400                        4,800

Total:                                                        31,976-39,596     48,530-56,030

Current US Census Poverty Threshold     11,161                           22,128
Current HSS Poverty Guidelines             10,890                       22,350
Gross Annual Min. wages FT before taxes    13,650                       13,650

Quick Cavats
The first and most important cavat is that the cost of living varies wildly from one region to another. Only the state - or an extremely clever and well-funded research project - can recalibrate their budgets to account for regional variation in living costs. So this budget should be seen as the production of averages.  Some costs may excede your localities’ realities, in other places - particularly the major metropoles - these numbers may seem low in one section (rent) and high in another (transportation).  Please remember, these numbers are not the product of an exhaustive economic survey, but drawn from what sources I could find to arrive at a basic budget of living costs, sufficient to build a discussion.

In some cases, the information is dated. the Electricity cost is from 2009. The suggested rental ranges are taken from a 2008  Harvard University Center for Housing Studies report. The clothing costs are taken from the  Bureau of Labor Statistics CONSUMER EXPENDITURES--2009 report that said Americans spent 1725 on apparel and services. I divided that number by three (1725/3) to arrive at the 575 expense for a single person. I then multiplied that number by 4 to arrive at the family cost.

These are, admittedly, ball park numbers. But since this budget is built off national averages, it should provide a reasonable basis for making an argument about why our current poverty measure is completely absurd.

Savings and Retirement
My numbers for savings and retirement are modest and based on stable work. That is, the person is economically stable at whatever economic level they are living and their savings and retirement investments are intended for a rainy day that isn’t happening now.  If the person is not employed full-time and on a permanent basis, then they will need to sock more money away, because rainy days come more often if you can only find transient, part-time or temporary work.

I realize that economic demand on one’s personal budget is completely at odds with the point of making jobs temporary and part-time - cutting wages and diminishing work conditions - but if we were being economically reasonable, we would pay such workers higher wages than their permanent colleagues, since they must go without wages or diminished wages whenever work slacks, while the permanent employees are kept on the books.

But therein lies a hidden tension. The poor must save more, because they have past debts, more delayed necessary expenses (health, car, housing, education) and because they are more likely to be working as temporary and part-time workers. So they need savings more than a tenured college professor, even as life denies them the income to provide for their basic living costs, let alone saving.

I propose 200/400 because its significant enough to make a difference, if it can be reserved for more than two years, and yet is not outrageous or requiring a significantly greater income or self-sacrifice beyond what is wise and healthy. Moreover, it establishes the principle that poverty thresholds and guidelines should recognize that unexpected expenses are a fact of life and that savings is a social good, that the poor should be rewarded for doing, should they be able to manage it.  It is a principle that sets itself against current policy, one that looks on aid to the poor like a controlling miser, discounting every advantage a poor person gets in their transactions and punishing the frugal among them.

Clothing
My numbers may seem high for the avid Salvation Army shopper, but not out of line for someone who buys new clothes. Certainly one good job-hunting suit will bust a single person's 575 annual budget, when all other clothing costs are added in. The US Census median expenditure for on children’s clothing for families making under 36,000 is 630 a child, so that’s my basis for a family of 4. Two adults at 575 and two children at 630. This is what people are spending.

Phone and Internet
My internet and cell phone costs are admittedly 'best guesses' based on my awareness of current costs and set for the most cost-conscious, 'fast enough' and stable service. So, I based the internet access cost at my current phone company-provided service (DSL), after reading a bunch of reports dating back to 2005, that more or less justify my setting the budget at 40 bucks.

You can't get a job these days without surfing the internet for work. You cannot stay in touch with most prospective employers without the internet and you can't migrate from one industry to another without a lot of time spent on the internet.  Your children will be at a disadvantage if they do not have a computer in their home and internet access. Even the easiest way - and least error-prone way - to apply for unemployment benefits is over the internet.

No, I didn't use pay-as-you-go phone plans, because they are unstable for the user and reflect a compromise for the poor between having a necessity and the money they have to work with.  I added 10 dollars over the basic 30 dollar plan for families, expecting they would use their one phone more frequently and with less regard to minutes used.

Heat and Electric
While electric bills are heavily regulated and tend to move incrementally upward, heating bills are more volatile, depending on the type of heating used and the regulations in that state. But both are expected to become more expensive as our energy sources become more expensive. The number used is the median expense from 2009. Its close enough to my own usage for a 2 bedroom in New England, so that I'm sure its lower than a lot of your bills. Not perfect, but good enough for a baseline conversation about living costs.  

Food
My food numbers are based the USDA's thriftiest food plan costs, parsed out for what a single man between 18-51 years old and a family of 4 with two adults needs according to the USDA is necessary. There are different numbers depending age/sex and character of the family unit (number of adults/children). But the numers aren't very different, so for the purposes of discussion, these figures will do.

However, according to the USDA, a single male in his prime, should be able to feed themselves in a healthy manner for 33-34 dollars a week.

Reality check: I'm a single guy, who grows most of his own vegetables 6 months a year. I live in an area with lots of small farms. I buy basic staples, cheap cuts of meat, pasta, whole grains, whole beans, fruits and whatever vegetables I can't/don't grow or are out of season in my garden. I don't buy packaged or processed food, except for pasta. No bread (except on occasion), no cookies or breakfast cereals or frozen/pre-made meals. Just raw food.

But even at the height of summer, when my garden is overflowing, I spend 30 dollars on food. At that's up from 20 dollars two years ago. in the winter - when my garden is gone and the crops I stored have run out, my food bill runs about 60-70 dollars a week.  So the food numbers I posted up above are too low.

Moreover, the USDA's food plans do not even properly reflect the inflation statistics produced by the Department of Labor. In the past year, food prices have risen 2.1%, according to the latest  CPI-U report . Yet, the price of the USDA's thrifty food basket rose only 1% when one compares  December 2009 to  December 2010.

So even the idealized 'thrifty basket of food' that we base our measure of poverty on, is not reflective of economic reality. So to properly contruct a poor person's food budget - never mind measure their poverty - we would need to increase the budget numbers up from what posted in my budgets. I believe these costs should be budgeted 20% higher. But for the moment, I will leave this low number in place, recognizing we need to revisit the USDA guidelines at a later time.

Housing and Shelter
My housing costs may also be too low for many regions. Consider these  current prices for rent in Boston, when compared with the US Poverty Threshold for various households:

Average Rents - Boston MA -January 2011
Size                  Monthly      Annual    Poverty Threshold (household size)

Studio             1,780        21,360    11,161 (1)
1 Bedroom        1,950       23,400     11,161 (1)/14,366 (2 adults)
2 Bedroom        2,505       30,060     14,787 (2, 1 minor)/17,285 (3, 2 minors)
3 Bedroom        3,552       42,624     21,756 (4, 2 minors)

As you can see, the average rent in Boston are over twice the US Poverty Threshold. As  The Joint Center for Housing Studies pointed out, you need to earn over twice the minimum wage to be able to afford a modest apartment anywhere in this country and more than three times the minimum wage to afford a modest apartment in any US urban area.

Here's what the  Joint Center for Housing Studies  had to say about the level of economic distress in the housing marketplace for homeowners and renters alike:

All told, 40.3 million households spent more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing in 2008, while 18.6 million of these households spent more than half—up from 13.8 million in 2001. Of those with such severe housing cost burdens, fully 45.1 percent are renters in the bottom income quartile. Indeed, many householders with incomes that are one to three times the full-time minimum wage equivalent still have to devote at least half their incomes to housing

Of course, one finds cheaper apartments in suburbia, exurbia and rural regions. Which is why poorer populations - most notably African Americans - are disappearing from Chicago, New Orleans, New York and elsewhere. Even municipal workers in places like New York City can no longer afford to live in the city where they work.  

Transportation
But if you save money on housing costs by moving away from the metropole center, you increase your transportation costs.  You need a car the minute you move into the suburbs.  Even if you live along a major mass transit route (e.g. PATH, NJ Transit, Metro, BART, etc.), you still need a car to get around. If you have a family beyond an urbanized area, you need a car and all that comes with it. And if you don't have a car in a rural area, you are dependent on your neighbors and relatives.  

While the poor may save on monthly car payments, they own older cars. So their  f they are handy and willing to drive old, less-than-pretty cars. They spend a great great deal more on car repairs and they usually own cars that are past their warranty.  They pay more for their insurance and their debt is financed at a higher rate of interest.  

Health Care
According to the  CDC , we have  59 million Americans without health care , as of November 2010.

Yes, we do have subsidies for the poor. But eligibility builds off HHS poverty guidelines, augmented by to one degree or another, in an grudging administrative accommodation to economic reality. Again, the enormous gap between federal poverty measures and economic reality reveals itself.

But we are about to demand that every American get health care coverage. That means we are also going to measure the need of 59 million people without health care using current poverty measures.  

So what will be the poverty threshold for getting insurance assistance? The HHS poverty guidelines. How might our new mandated health care system measure poverty when considering need and assistance?

Let's turn to the state where the current model of health care reform was built, Massachusetts.  A single person must earn less than 14,628 and a family of four must earn less than 29,328. But as you can see from my section on Boston rents, a studio apartment goes for 21,360 a year.  That means any single person living in Boston making 14,628 cannot afford their own apartment. A person making 17,000 in Boston doesn't make enough to cover their rent, but they are liable to pay 700 a year for health care. If they don't pay that bill, they are liable for tax penalties.

Now multiply that stupidity 59 million times. This is where our measures of poverty undermine our efforts to address the problems of poverty, including lack of health care. Never mind causing great distress to millions who do not consider themselves poor, but may, in fact, be poor. Because once you earn a dollar more than the maximum income thresholds for social programming, you are at the mercy of the marketplace.  

And when it comes to health care, it’s a pretty merciless environment. Between 2001-2007, health care premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages rose 19% and inflation rose 17%, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. But in the wake of economic collapse, wages for this past decade have declined. Health care costs, however are expected to keep climbing.

Counting Education
The most outstanding cost not calculated here is the cost of education. Sending children to school costs money. While school lunches make a difference and schools often find ways to cover the gap when children's parents cannot afford basic books, pencils and the like, educating children is not free.

According to the US Census, one child’s annual education/child care expenses ranged from $780 at its lowest to $1,780 at it’s highest in 2009. And these are the expenditures for husband-wife families making less than 36,000 dollars. It adds no ease to the problem that the highest child care/education expenses are in the first two years of life. Or that’s relevance to the child’s future potential development.

If education costs are included in the cost of economic self-sufficiency, then the threshold necessary to determine whether one is ‘poor’ or not is even higher than the numbers posted in my budget.

Let’s amend:

Previous Total:                                  31,976-39,596     48,530-56,030
Educational cost (2 children)                        -                  1,560-3,740

Revised Total:                                  31,976-39,596      50,090-59,770
Current US Census Poverty Threshold     11,161                         22,128
Current HSS Poverty Guidelines             10,890                     22,350
Gross Annual Min. wages FT before taxes    13,650                     13,650

 

As some of you may notice, the kinds of income needed to free a family from economic danger and trouble is now well into the 55-60th percentile for income in America, if they have 2 or more children.

And I haven’t mentioned college yet.  But I’ll take that issue up another day.

Poverty and Debt
The poor pay more for interest rates, pay more and higher penalties, use that debt to pay for essentials and can cycle down into a level of indebtedness and lost income (some might say stolen income) due to debt, that they have no way of ever seeing solvency. Even in bankruptcy, education debt is inescapable.  Those who know their ancient history know that debt is one of the two ways to become a slave (getting stolen from your home, being the other).  

Renters save less and earn no equity over time, unlike homeowners. So their ability to leverage equity to make investments in their future is utterly missing. When whole family and community networks are poor, no one has that equity or credit except the predator lenders, check lending services and the loan sharks.

This is how poverty is passed on through the generations. It also makes a third-generation poor person so much more economically endangered than someone from a middling economic background who fell on hard times.  So if we were going to really measure poverty - or poverty's intensities - we'd need to calculate it treating time as a negative multiplier.

Beyond the Current Poverty Measures
In the past 15 years, there has been considerable interest in other statistical models for measuring poverty or providing guidance for social programming. There are a number of models being proposed and considered. While I’m still reviewing the literature on the subject, the studies that best matched my own informal measuring of average living costs were the reports coming out of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

The discourse around Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) seem overly obsessed with calculating in all forms of subsidy through complex metrics. While this sort of calculus might be of use to those trying to estimate the impact of budget cuts or increases - mostly for the Office of Management and Budgets - it does little to measure want in America.

What we need is a poverty threshold that reflects economic reality. Those thresholds will vary from region to region and community to community, but they need to reflect real expenses. The US Census Poverty Threshold does not reflect economic reality.  

How Many Poor in America?
Having examined all the basic costs of living inherent to living in 21st century America and compared them to our standard measures for poverty, let's consider where the real threshold for economic self-sufficiency might be.

Let's return to our revised income comparisons, plus a few other ways of illustrating the problem:

                                                       Single Adult                Family of 4
Baseline Budget Expenses:                  31,641-37,512           47,239-55,631
Budget expenses/plus education:         31,641-37,512           48,799-59,371

Current US Census Poverty Threshold
    11,161                       22,128
Current HSS Poverty Guidelines             10,890                       22,350                    
Gross Annual Min. pre-tax wages FT         13,650                       13,650
200% of Poverty Rate                              22,322                       44,256
300% of Poverty Rate                              33,483                       66,384
Lowest Quintile upper threshold                 20,712                       20,712
Lover middle Quintile upper threshold          39,000                       39,000
Middle Quintile upper threshold                  62,750                       62,750

As you can see, 20% of the population is in deep poverty. A nightmare of economic crises and no moments of peace. 40% of US households have collective incomes less than 39,000 dollars a year. Everyone one of those household needs to be considered 'at risk' if not also impoverished.  Even those in the middle quintile - earning between 39,000 and 62,750 - may also be not achieve economic self-sufficiency (the real threshold of poverty), depending on how many children they have and local living costs.

By my estimate, 35-40% of Americans are poor. I believe another 10-15% are one bad break away from joining them in poverty. And in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, more people are joining the poor every day. We cannot possibly respond either to the current economic crisis or the permanent crises of poverty, if we do not know how many people are in poverty and who else is in the economic danger zone.

I realize my little exercise here does not provide conclusive proof for my own particular cost of living expenses choices, even though most of them appear low to me and mostly drawn from government data. That said, I think they do show that there is little relationship between our poverty measures and guidelines and the cost of living in 21st century America.

If we do not significantly upwardly revise our measurements of poverty - so that our thresholds reflect economic reality - then our data does more to mask poverty than identify it.  These false measures become the agreed upon public ‘knowledge’ and the foundation of social policy and programming. A nation of politics, building its social policy around a false number.

Worse still, these thresholds drag down the guidelines for determining assistance, reduced pricing and/or protection from corporate providers (heating, insurance, etc.) for those who are in economic danger. Building assistance criteria around a poverty threshold that should be two or three times higher will cost a lot of people the help they need to survive.  In short, our current poverty measures and guidelines are doing real harm to the poor and they need to be significantly revised upward.

We need a new poverty threshold measurement. Three times a thrifty basket of food is absurd. We know that and yet we continue to use it. So we are perpetuating a fraud. That fraud costs people their lives and futures and blinds us to the brutal mess we’re making of our people, our economy and our future.

Originally posted to Tom Taaffe on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 03:43 AM PST.

Also republished by Frustrati, Jobs Wages and Community Investment Working Group, Southern Liberal Living DK Version, Income Inequality Kos, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Excellent diary and highly recommended for (26+ / 0-)

      truth telling. Thank you!

      "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones"

      by roseeriter on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 03:53:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I live on about that much (5+ / 0-)

      in the Honolulu market. Am I poor? I was told to stop whining on Daily Kos by someone on her lunch break; it made me "look like a child."

    •  On How People Live at These Incomes (13+ / 0-)

      Nobody can possible live anywhere in the US on anything approaching poverty income levels on their own. Houseing is the big cost. People with low incomes are going to be renting a room, sharing a place with a lot of roomates or stay with friends or family. I worked in NYC in the mid to late 80's and for a while had a take home pay of only $735 a month. I rented a room in guy's house in Brooklyn for $200. Most of money went towards food and subway tokens to get to work.

      Also remember that the Povertyline is a baseline and that most states offer many services, foodstamps probably the most criitical for households that are at some multiple of the poverty rate.

      I agree that how we measure poverty now is designed mainly to mask how many people live in poverty. It is also important to realize that most non-poor people have no concept how the poor live, so incorrectly believe they have more money then they do. My husband's father died when he was 10 leaving his Mom to care for 4 kids in Queens, NY. When he applied for student aide and put down his family income, the Counslor won't believe him. He asked him how he could live on so little, how did afford to even see a movie. My husband looked at him like he was crazy, and told him they didn't go to movies and that was what they lived on. They lived in goverenment houseing which had a sliding rent based on income and pretty much every other penny went towards food.

    •  To those who quibble about the numbers (6+ / 0-)

      I posted in the budget: all the larger numbers are taken either from government reports (follow the links). The rent numbers are drawn from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies 2008 report on the rental market. (see links to report in this diary)

      These rental numbers were produced using exhaustive economic survey research and were extraordinarily comprehensive for a non-government agency to undertake.  They are low when compared to some of the average rents being charged today in some of our major metropoles, like New York, Boston, San Franscisco, Los Angeles and their surrounding communities. (see  MyApartments.com  for average rents in your neighborhood).

      Yes, rent varies wildly in the US, as do food and other costs. My numbers were based on national averages, not local realities. Only state agencies have access to sufficient data to make the nuanced calculations that will yield an accurate poverty threshold for Norman, OK on one hand and New York City on the other.  That the center for housing studies got as far as it did with its calculations is remarkable.  

      While we can have examples to show where someone managed to 'beat the devil' and get an economic break on a vital necessity, these are exceptions to the rule. Seen as a part of a whole, these exceptions pull the averages for that category down.  But you can't build a model budget out of exceptions.  You have to work with average cost, not exceptional cost.

      Nor should we discount the poor when they do manage to beat the devil on rent or saved money on food by growing it themselves.  One of the hidden ways we chain the poor into poverty is by punishing them for saving money.

      This is a problem that will grow worse, if we follow the logic that underpins the discussions around Supplemental Poverty Measures and base our aid requirements on those metrics.  But that's an argument for another day.

    •  Car, rent & electricity more for family of 4 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alizard

      This is a great diary and a great effort. I just have to nitpick a little in that you've listed identical rental, transportation, and electricity costs for a single guy and a family of 4. A family of 4 would need a much bigger apartment, need 2 cars to get around, and of course use a lot more electricity just from washing clothes and drying hair, etc. You neeed to change those numbers there.

      •   a fair nitpick, thanks for bringing it up (0+ / 0-)

        In those cases, I had no data that broke out the differences between what an individual living alone uses, and what a family of 4 uses and no equation I could think of that would allow me to parse out the expenses differently for each group.

        Those numbers reflect consumer use, mostly by household.

        As I said, these numbers were for conversation purposes. More systematic budget production would have to be handled locality by locality and sufficient household sizes would have to be surveyed as well.

        My goal was to produce a conservative total cost of living needs, hence I erred to the lower number and/or did not increase it, unless I had a documentable reason or a clear economic theorem to adapt one number to another circumstance.

        The best solid evidence of cost - beyond my own experience - is to work with average expenditures and average expenditures for low income people, where available.

        I stand by my argument - our poverty measures mask poverty and under report need - but my specific pricing is certainly up for debate. They were designed for 'discussion purposes'.  One would need to do a lot of new research - an economic census - to produce a valid budget that accurately met local economic realities. Certainly within our government's power to do so, but not within mine

        But I got 5 dollars that says my total numbers are more reflective of current economic realities than the silly numbers used by the federal government, even if specific details are off target, this way or that.  

  •  Great write up of an important issue (28+ / 0-)

    I was about 24 when I first learned about the official poverty level. I stared at disbelief at the number because I could not wrap my head around how someone can actually survive on that income without being dependent on a host of other programs: housing assistance, food stamps, etc.

    Great (though depressing) diary. Thanks. I think more people need to be aware of these numbers, especially as true poverty increases but is not accounted for, thanks to these artificially low numbers.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 04:00:30 AM PST

  •  also missing are the homeless (34+ / 0-)

    or the squatters and the other dispossessed who are using their autos as their homes or are camping out with relatives and friends or under bridge overpasses.

    Unfortunately, most homes today are constructed so that the loss of electricity also means the loss of heat, food preparation and other necessities of life.  

  •  Republishing this to the (25+ / 0-)

    Dem Wing of the Dem Party group.

    I work with B2B PAC, and all views and opinions in this account are my own.

    by slinkerwink on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 04:45:52 AM PST

  •  The measure of poverty (30+ / 0-)

    is inadequate as you say but what is also inadequate are many Americans social circles. It's amazing how few people who earn more than the median know or even have any acquaintance with people who earn less than the median. Thus you get my coworkers at a software company saying that people just need more incentive to save for retirement, or that people working at Wal Mart are just teenagers with summer jobs.  In the middle of winter. Who aren't teenagers....

    •  Please don't get me started! (30+ / 0-)

      As a scholar, I can't tell you how many conversations I've witnessed around this subject. When I reveal myself as from a poverty background, people get this shocked look on their face. You know the look. That startled, 'how did you get in here?' look on their face.

      Since this is also the world Obama comes from, I am not surprised at all that he has absolutely no awareness, sensitivity or understanding of poverty economics.  Its as if we don't exist.  

      Even those who study the poor, even those who claim to be 'action anthropologists', get that blank look on their faces when I suggest that they should measure their efforts by how many people from poor backgrounds are in the academy and working along side them as equals.

      I've never heard a single one of them say, 'yes, tom you are right. Until education is reformed sufficiently that a poor person can become a college professor, we still have a lot to do'.

      Mostly, they just tell me I 'don't fit', 'don't belong' or other passive aggressive marginalizing comments. All of them would describe themselves as 'liberals' and some even claim to be 'marxists'.  

      Insularity breeds homogeneity, homogeneity breeds ignorance, ignorance breeds stupidity and stupidity breeds failure.

      Thanks.

      •  Wobblies and Zapatistas. (11+ / 0-)

        If you haven't read it, let me recommend Wobblies and Zapatistas, Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History. It's a conversation between Serbian anarchist Andrej Grubacic and the great American radical, Staughton Lynd.

        Lynd is the son of privilege; his parents are the famous sociologists who wrote about Middletown, but early on he came to identify himself as an "Outsider" as he calls it who identified with other Outsiders in society, the victims of racial, class and gender oppression.

        The question was whether he would do more than identify, whether he could do two things: actually act in a way to help those Outsiders; and learn the skill of "accompaniment" so that he could hear what those Outsiders were saying rather than trying to issue them prescriptions.

        Lynd became SNCC's director of the Mississippi Freedom Schools, then SDS's organizer for the first march on Washington against the Vietnam War.  The latter earned him a dismissal from a Yale teaching position, and a trip to Hanoi with Tom Hayden completely destroyed any opportunity to hole up in the academy.

        At first, he thought about going to work in a factory.  A friend who worked in a factory told him that he could work there for twenty years, and people would still be saying, "Hey, let's go ask the professor."

        So Lynd decided to go to law school so he could represent people like the friends he had made who were always getting into trouble for trying to organize their workplaces people and who were often abandoned by their unions they were trying to help.  After graduation, he moved to Youngstown, Ohio, and he and his spouse, also an attorney, have been  representing workers and prisoners for thirty years .

        He and Howard Zinn were great friends after teaching together at Spelman.  Zinn's background was like yours, and both he and Lynd have observations about academics that are similar to yours.  Lynd ends up recommending that anyone from privilege who is a "smart cookie" and wants to help Outsiders is better off acquiring a skill that Outsiders need: doctor, lawyer, dentist.  The intellectuals for whom Lynd has respect are mostly those with backgrounds like yours, some self-educated.

        Check it out.

        •  Last generation, not this one (16+ / 0-)

          When I was an academic, the only people who could even approach my backstory were a few, very senior academics who got their degrees in the 1960's.  

          Even then, they were few and far between. The first thing I noticed when I started going to conferences, was that the grad students were more affluently dressed than the faculty.

          Then I watched - and documented - 88% of the single parents on public assistance driven out of my public university in one year (911 down to 106), thanks to Welfare Reform.

          Then I read the university leadership's response to cricitism of this decline and the result of their meeting with the Democratic Party leadership over the public outcry: "not one penney of university money will be spent keeping anyone coming off of welfare in school."

          When I got to graduate school, I would hear the occasional student or faculty member say, "if you can't afford it, you don't belong." By the time I finished my ph.d. the chancellor and his VP for student affairs was saying the same thing.  This chancellor also told students, "if you can't afford [this school's tuition], go to a community college."

          Then he built luxury housing for affluent students, while the poor and working class were gutted from the school.

          When I graduated, I taught at the closest community college to this school. My classes were held in a Quonset hut . There were 10 full-time faculty, several of which were doing administrative duties and over 90% of the faculty were adjuncts making 2000-3000 dollars a class, no benefits, not even any social security payments taken out of their checks.  

          Poor people teaching poor people, while they all drown in debt forever. The poorer the student population, the greater the percentage of adjuncts and the lower their wages. Of course, in all places administrators outnumber full-time faculty and nobody ever heard of an 'adjunct administrator'.

          Howard Zinn would never have gotten a full time job, if he graduated with a Ph.D. today.  Most college professors are adjuncts, making an average of 2000 dollars a class, less than 20,000 dollars a year and teaching twice the working load of full-time faculty.

          He would be toiling away, teaching 6-10 courses a semester for 2-3000 a class and driving all over Massachusetts trying to get to the next class.

          He would never have written any of his books, because he would have spent every waking hour teaching, driving and grading.  He would not get any grants, because he was only a temporary worker. He would have had to pay his own way to conferences, while his 'betters' had their expenses paid.

          As another adjunct put it to me - he was teaching 10 courses a semester - 'we've returned to the era of the robber baron.'  

          And that's one of the major purposes of destroying full-time teaching at the college level.  Making sure that we never have any more Howard Zinn's or Noam Chomsky's.  And we have Bill Clinton's 'education reforms' to thank us for that.  Obama's just building off Clinton's exclusionary efforts.

          •  I agree. (6+ / 0-)

            Zinn getting in at BU was an aberration born of that brief flowering of the 60s.  Rare before and since.

            And the whole 60s and early 70s were an anomaly as well.  I'm a poor farm kid who ended up in the Ivies.  I even had some classmates from similar backgrounds.  But that's quite rare these days, and beyond the undergrad level, extremely scarce.

            Check out Lynd's life course.  Hedges documents it pretty well in that link in the first comment.  He was fired from Yale, blackballed at every school around the country, went to law school to work for union-side law firm, got fired from there when he wanted to represent workers who had problems with the union, then went to work with Legal Aid.

            Now I'll admit that the last refuge is hardly available now, but Lynd did manage to keep writing and even doing history all that time.

            The first step is saying "Fuck academia."  It's possible to research, write and teach independently from that system.

            •  BU (5+ / 0-)

              That shithole pumps out right-wing academics like plastic toys.  Many of the politicans responsible for driving the poor out of Massachusetts public colleges and schools were BU alumni.

              And Harvard is even worse.

            •  a low income student (5+ / 0-)

              who has top grades and is able to rack up some extracurriculars can usually get in somewhere on a scholarship - I know a couple of people who have done this (though many low income students don't know that they can do this - because nobody tells them). But an above-average low income student will struggle. And an average low income student hasn't really got a chance in hell right now.

              •  I couldn't agree more (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                i like bbq

                Educational access and the academy's responsibility as a gateway for opportunity has been completely corrupted and blown to bits.

                I've met too many mediocre minds as faculty and a grad student to believe for a minute there's a coorolation between intelligence and educational attainment. That goes double for ivy league educational attainment.  

                As far as I can tell, the academy is cultivating overprivileged, ordinary minds and corporate pitchmen.

                I've also met too many smart poor people to believe that their educational attainment is a reflection on anything other than the structural classism of our society and the pernicious ways the overprivileged exclude the 'lower social orders' for their own selfish benefit.

                All pretenses aside, the American academy is a bloody mess and its rapidly decaying into a sick twisted cross between a debtor's prison, a pyramid scheme and a mail order fraud.  Its a classist backwater in America that bears more resemblance to a country club than an institution with responsibilities to society and its citizens.

                And they have completely abandoned their duty to provide opportunity to anyone but themselves and their social classes.

      •  Obama More Comfortable w/ Forbes 400 Types (8+ / 0-)

        ....than with people from his Chicago neighborhood.

        "Since this is also the world Obama comes from, I am not surprised at all that he has absolutely no awareness, sensitivity or understanding of poverty economics.  Its as if we don't exist."  

        Action is the antidote to despair---Joan Baez

        by frandor55 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:01:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  You are what I call 'Un-Reasonable'. (5+ / 0-)

        I am un-reasonable as well.

        I think what this means to me is that you don't by the plastic reality of the Corporate Media.

        Great piece, Tom.

        Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

        by k9disc on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:46:25 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Is there a permanently (16+ / 0-)

    reced' diary list? This would be on it.  Bravo!

    "Whenever I get the urge, I lie down 'til it passes." - Mark Twain on exercise.

    by mkor7 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:10:03 AM PST

  •  brilliant diary! (9+ / 0-)

    excellent information!

    thank you
    ♥~

  •  Ohhhh dear (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shanikka, worldlotus, Tom Taaffe

    I was involved in the antipoverty effort when these stats were a major subject of discussion 40 years ago and I thank you for this diary.

    I would normally read every word of a diary on poverty stats but this one is much too long for me. I would humbly ask that you turn it into a series of shorter ones.

    Kthxbai.

    —Jill

    Let there be light. Then let there be a cat, a cocktail, and a good book.

    by JG in MD on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:23:53 AM PST

  •  The Numbers (16+ / 0-)

    Molly Orshansky, who designed the original formula, has said she never meant for her calculations to be taken up and used as they were. They were a rough estimate she was asked to come up with as part of her everyday work at USDA.

    It's horrifying.

    Let there be light. Then let there be a cat, a cocktail, and a good book.

    by JG in MD on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:38:05 AM PST

    •  Indeed (13+ / 0-)

      I've read Orshansky's work. It was a rule of thumb idea that got turned into a federal measure.

      The fact that we still use it today is mostly because it hides poverty.  

      In my research for this piece I stumbled upon the report of a committee formed in the early days of the Obama administration on revising this formula. They agreed that this measure should remain the official poverty threshold and any efforts better spent on a supplemental poverty measure (SPM).

      Having reviewed the literature on SPM, I see a fury of activity that does not address the fact that our poverty threshold is supposed to be measuring the income needed to be economically self-sufficient in our society. Instead, they seem obsessed with calibrating the effects of aid on the overall number of poor.

      Needless to say, SPN researcher's income levels for a family of 4 are no different than the official numbers, except that they use an endlessly tortured calculus to get there.

      •  My math is pretty simple. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barbwires, JG in MD

        If you want to use the Thrifty Food Basket, fine, just put it into current context.

        For those in the lower tiers food consumes roughly 20% of income, not 33% as this formula says.  

        Thrifty Food Basket X 5 = Federal Poverty Line

        Easy to understand and easy to explain.

         How U.S. Income Groups Get Squeezed By Food Prices

        This would put a family of 1 at $18,150 and your family of 4 at $37,250.

        Minimum wage at $9.60 to make it hit poverty plus 10%.  Seems to me that if you work full time you should be over the poverty line.

        •  That's not sufficient (5+ / 0-)

          If you are going to use one cost and multiply it - which is probably not the best way to go - use shelter/housing.

          After all, a balance budget says you shouldn't spend more than a third of your post-tax wages on shelter.  That way, our poverty thresholds and our commonsense personal economic advise are at least on the same page.

          Food costs are not a sound or relevant measure for determining poverty. The leading agent on the expense side is housing.  

          Remember that while food prices have been bumping recently, housing has been blowing a hole in people's budgets for 30 years.

          But really, the measure we need to use, should account for the real costs of all basic necessities. Yesterday, housing prices explode, tomorrow, it may be heating or food costs that explode. If you don't want to correct a problem today and watch it replicate the problem tomorrow.

          As for minimum wages, according to the harvard study on rental housing, we would need to more than double the minimum wage if it is going to match housing costs. By their 2008 estimates, that the minimum hourly wage necessary to afford a modest apartment anywhere in this country was 16.61.  And it would need to be well over 20 dollars an hour in most of our major cities.

          16.61 is, by the way a $1.39 lower than the Australian minimum wage.

          That's how out of whack our numbers are.  

          •  I'm certainly not against (0+ / 0-)

            giving people more.  A real formula would deal with lots of variables as things vary a lot dependent on where one lives.  I guess I just can't imagine our government being that honest.  

            They already lie about CPI because if they used an honest measure of cost of living that included food and energy then they would have to pay out more to social security recipients.

            Food costs are not a sound or relevant measure for determining poverty. The leading agent on the expense side is housing.

            Housing is usually the biggest cost.  However, there is some flexibility with housing.  One can rent a room, live with room mates, move in with family, or sleep in a car.  It is a lot tougher to give up eating.

            Also, the last program standing that really helps the poor is SNAP (food stamps), and if the guidelines were adjusted as I suggested then many more would/should qualify.

    •  Even worse (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      barbwires, dreamghost

      Not only did they take her ballpark and make it gospel, they have since modified it every time the "basket of goods" has had a price increase: replacing, for example, steak w/lean hamburger, then replacing hamburger w/ground chuck, and so on.

      They lower the nutritional value of the basket's contents to artificially deflate the basket's cost in light of inflating prices for actual food.

  •  The Other Measure: Who do Candidates Not Pitch To" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ilex, radical simplicity

    By that, 90% of Americans live in Representative Poverty.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:38:32 AM PST

  •  great diary (6+ / 0-)

    I often comment about this, how changing how we quantify reality is easier than changing reality, so govts and agencies and so forth just continualy fudge numbers in every fascet of society.

    I mean does 50% of americans living in poverty really allow the bullshit of the ameircan dream and USA #1 meme to flow?  of course not, so fake the numbers and sell the bullshit.  Thats the true american way.

    Bad is never good until worse happens

    by dark daze on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:42:01 AM PST

  •  You had me up until... (8+ / 0-)

    you comparison of current conditions to slavery.  I hope you take to heart this critique.  In no way are the poor in this country anywhere close to being enslaved.  Poor, yes!  Enslaved and owned by another and having slavery being a birthright, no!

    If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. - Audre Lorde

    by princss6 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 05:54:12 AM PST

    •  Heading In That Direction Though (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slinkerwink, shanikka, jimreyn

       

      In no way are the poor in this country anywhere close to being enslaved.

      Action is the antidote to despair---Joan Baez

      by frandor55 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:26:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No they are not... (5+ / 0-)

        When they are sold on auction blocks, branded as per owner and willed via official documents, then let's talk.  

        I grew up poor so I know that my condition was in no way close to those enslaved.  My parents could actually marry, I could go to school and learn to read and write (not on the pain of death) and no one could whip me for any petty offense or remove my limbs.

        People need to understand what slavery was in the US and stop making comparisons because it does a disservice to their point and to the legacy of those descended from slaves.  It also shows just how much current day Americans do not truly know about what happened in this country.

        If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. - Audre Lorde

        by princss6 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:31:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  No way. (5+ / 0-)

        All of these poor people we are wailing about can vote.

        They usually don't. Some of them vote against us!

        This Diary does an excellent job of looking at the material situation of the poor. But obviously they are not that unhappy about it, or Cleveland would look like Cairo.

        •  Give it time (6+ / 0-)

          if trends continue, it will happen.

          It hasn't yet, because labor and the progressives have been sitting on their activists for the past 2 years, denying the alienated the infrastructure to mount a defense.

          We only see the unions standing up now, because the flood has finally reached their doors. Even then, they have not linked the Wisconsin struggle to a demand for more living wage jobs.

          As with all rebellions, riots and revolutions, oppression increases until a trigger event sets it off. Whether it succeeds or fails depends on the social infrastructure necessary to sustain and grow it.

          Its coming, Wisconsin is just an early brush fire.

    •  Debt is the historical pathway to poverty (9+ / 0-)

      I'm not saying we are there yet. But - historically speaking - there are two main paths to creating slaves: you steal your neighbors out of their home and sell them, or you bind them in debt-slavery until the debt is 'satisfied'.  

      The emergence of the term 'indentured servant' was a distinction made after the disastrous decision to put enslaved europeans, indians and africans in the same corn, cotton and sugar cane fields in the mid-1600's. Disastrous, that is, from the point of view of the land/slave owners.  

      The first race-based laws in the English colonies in America, were to distinguish between debt-slaves (indentured servants) and those stolen from Africa.

      It was this turn that made American slavery unique in world history as the only system - as far as I'm aware of - that enslaved the children of slaves as a fact of their birth.  That's what distinguished our slavery from all others, the notion of perpetual, multi-generational slavery.

      My point is that we are heading down the path toward this again.  No, we are not there yet. But every step we take brings us closer.

      •  Here... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        conlakappa, soothsayer99, worldlotus
        Debt is the historical pathway to poverty

        I'm not disputing that at all.  Debt is a pathway to poverty.  Poverty and slavery are not the same thing.

        I'm in debt up to the tune of almost six figures for my education.  Great Lakes Higher Ed can't sell me to the highest bidder, nor can any of their representatives rape me at their will.  My debt is my debt.  It is passed down to my kid in the way slavery was passed down if your parent was a slave.

        Conflating indentured servitude and slavery is self-serving as most indentured servants entered into a contract.  

        No we are not heading down that path again.  Hoovervilles, yes!  Slavery, no!  

        Out of respect to those who are actually descended from slaves, these comparison should stop.  They alienate those who you say you seek helping as AAs make up a significant portion of those in poverty.  Come to my poor neighborhood and call my neighbors a slave and see what happens.  You don't need to make false equivalencies to make your point.  The hyperbole is over the top and rings too close to a teabaggerish meme that the black President is going to enslave white people and that slavery was just like indentured servitude, therefore why aren't AAs able to overcome it.  Embedded in your points, intentional or not, are those two pernicious, false and invidious memes when  you bring slavery or "eminent" slavery into the picture.

        Can we get a Goodwin rule for American Slavery or is that too much like being too PC?

        If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. - Audre Lorde

        by princss6 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:18:13 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  there are different types of slavery (7+ / 0-)

          learn the definition

          http://www.google.com/...

          second, you dont know how screwed you are.

          six figure school debt, that debt NEVER goes away, you could be out of work for years, fighting a disease, guess what, that debt just piles up on itself, you will have your taxes refund taken, your salary if you ever get one taken from, youll have you ss taken.  If these people take you to court and you refuse or cant pay, that is considered contempt, and thus you go to jail.

          So you think having your freedom controlled and possible taken from debt isnt a form of slavery.

          Wake up.   you better hope you get one of the last good paying jobs out there, or you are totally screwed.

          Bad is never good until worse happens

          by dark daze on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:37:30 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  No, you learn the definition. And then educate (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RadioGirl, princss6

            yourself on what took place at slave auctions.  Hands shoved in the mouths of slaves, fingers in vaginae and recta, testicles and breasts roughly handled.  If any of those things would be done to princss6 or others in student debt, I think we'd hear about it.  She also has freedom of movement though the debt will still follow her, hounds and men on horses won't.  

            I don't know what is more breathtakingly offensive your condescending tone or your seeming ignorance of the details of your country's history.

            I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear--Martin Luther King, Jr.

            by conlakappa on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 03:01:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  oh (3+ / 0-)

          and do some research on sex slaves, even here in this country, how are they basically controlled?... debt

          Bad is never good until worse happens

          by dark daze on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:38:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  "I owe my soul to the company store." (7+ / 0-)

          To a person who has no freedom of movement and who has no control of their time or where they live, the distinction may seem a bit empty.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, debt was used in northern mill towns and in Appalachian coal towns to establish what was tantamount to slavery, in terms of living conditions.  A historian has shown that, in terms of material well-being, slaves in the ante-bellum South were better off then factory workers in mill towns in the North.  For the benefit of the borderline insane, I'll state explicitly that the point is NOT how great slaves must have had it.

          The over-riding point, I would think, is that, while we all seem to have managed to agree that slavery is an affront to civilized values, we seem to be having more trouble accepting that starving children without a home, health care, or heat is similarly shameful.  The overlords are not as confused--they are less concerned with how they control labor than with the fact that it be controlled.  History is replete with various successful schemes which more or less lead to the same relation between labor and capital.  Some of them have even been called "communism".

          Don't believe everything you think.

          by geomoo on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:04:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  You're right. A slave is an asset and you have (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      geomoo

      to keep them fed and healthy to protect your investment.

      My ancestors, the dollar-a-day micks were a vast improvement over slaves as they could just be abused and used up till they dropped, then you just hire another one from the endless supply.

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

      by Greyhound on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 11:20:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Surely you are not suggesting (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        geomoo, conlakappa, princss6, soothsayer99

        that Irish people were abused more than enslaved people of color in the colonies and then in the United States?

        "Assets" - and therefore to be fed and treated decently?

        Have you read any histories and first-hand accounts of chattel slavery in the United States?

        Oh yes, and I am part Irish.  And yes, I am aware of Irish history in the United States, and histories of discrimination and mistreatment.

        Your comment is just astoundingly offensive and horrifically wrong.

        It takes nothing away from the history of abuse of Irish people here to acknowledge that this history cannot in any way be conflated with the history of chattel slavery here.

        Teach us to listen to sounds larger than our own heartbeat; that endure longer than our own weeping in the dark. - Lillian Smith

        by RadioGirl on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:04:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I didn't read the comment that way. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Greyhound, dreamghost

          I think the point is that "Well, at least you weren't slaves" would offer little comfort to a person in such a condition.  A competition among exploited peoples over who had it worse is certainly one in which everyone loses except the exploiters.  No?

          I addressed this point more fully  upthread .

          Don't believe everything you think.

          by geomoo on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:14:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think he was talking about different ways (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Agathena, geomoo, dreamghost

          to exploit people.  He's talking about 'wage slavery' which has the advantage - to the exploiter - of allowing them to use people callously and dangerously until death or discard, and no care given to whether victim/worker survives the experience.

          It replaced the perpetual, inherited slavery of America, which was the worst form of slavery in human history.  

          While American slaves had no rights, could be killed or tortured by their owners and their children doomed to slavery as well - the aspect that makes our version the worst - they had to be fed and sheltered.

          Neither are guarantees today.

          But where did the English learn how to abuse people so badly and - more or less - get away with it?

          The same place they learned how to conquer others and steal everything of value: Ireland.  

          By the 19th century, Irish had moved up from the total bottom to the miserable fate of wage slavery.

          I don't think the commentor was really trying to set the fate of the Irish in America below the fate of American slaves. He was just making a cynical point about wage slaves not even having food or shelter.

          I've heard that comment before, but I don't think the speakers intended to diminish the violence of slavery. They are just pointing out how close wage slavery is to physical slavery and that the differences aren't always good.

        •  Your taking offense at my comment is exactly (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dreamghost

          the point. This "my ancestors subjugation was worse than yours" game that so many engage in is exactly what those that have always ruled have used so successfully for so long to to keep their game going.

          That's how you get black people to turn on gay people who can then ignore women that can, in turn, deride the Jews who feel justified in hurting the Palestinians and on and on and on ad infinitum...

          There is only one conflict, one war, and still only one side is fighting it (though there is a slight chance that might have changed in the last couple of weeks).

          The reply "You had me up until..." is a perfect demonstration of not getting it. You were never a slave, I was never a dollar-a-day-mick, he was never a fucking guinea-bastard, but we are all excluded from the inconceivable wealth that this nation produces and is stolen by those that have always taken it from those that actually make it.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

          by Greyhound on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:09:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I suggest you look up the term (6+ / 0-)

      "wage slavery".

       Wikipedia  would be a good place to start, actually.  Here's an excerpt from their page on the topic (emphasis is mine):

      Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person's livelihood depends on wages rather than investments, gifts or other forms of remuneration, especially when the dependence is total and immediate.[1][2] The term draws an analogy between slavery and wage labor, and may refer to an "[un]equal bargaining situation between labor and capital", particularly where workers are paid comparatively low wages (e.g. sweatshops),[3] or it may draw similarities between owning and employing a person, which equates the term with a lack of workers' self-management.[4][5][6] The latter covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical social environment e.g. working for a wage not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma or status diminution.[7][8][9]

      Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted at least as early as Cicero. [10] A line in the original Star-Spangled Banner groups "hirelings" together with slaves. [11] Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of African American slavery invoked the concept to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North.[12][13] With the advent of the industrial revolution, thinkers such as Proudhon and Marx elaborated the comparison between wage labor and slavery in the context of a critique of property not intended for active personal use.[14][15] The introduction of wage labor in 18th century Britain was met with resistance – giving rise to the principles of syndicalism.[16][17][18][19]

      There's a lot more, and it's all good.  

      ‎"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." -- Anatole France

      by Mehitabel9 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 04:22:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  as the head of house hold for a family of (7+ / 0-)

    4 living at 140% I'd have a lot to say (but I need to go bid a job shortly and help get the kids up)

    As a poor person I find the food #s more realistic $500 a month is certainly living well for us.

    For housing average costs don't do it. When I lived in Boston I didn't. I lived in Sommerville where rents are cheaper, and many lived in places like Chelsea where rents are much much cheaper.

    Medical is a big variable. Normally much lower, if unlucky much higher and you lose everything. The affect of one single medical event is catastrophic, and that's why the health care bill that was passed was so important.

    One thing often overlooked is that most people, including poor people aren't that great at budgeting and being extremely frugal. It's not because they are dumb or lazy or out buying vodka with food stamp money, it's just that people are people, but if your sources are limited already it's a killer. Sometimes I used to read diaries of the newly unemployed and I'd read the same mistakes. When you are making plenty, it's not so important to be very good at managing money.

    My solution, when they make me king... double or triple minimum wage would be a start.

    "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:01:27 AM PST

    •  It is tough to gear down to less money (10+ / 0-)

      than you are used to.  BTDT.  

      The first hit for me was that my then spouse took a powder and left me with all the bills.  At the time a lot of things were on contract so I couldn't just turn off the service.  I had the same bills and roughly half the money to pay them (from $75K to $32K).

      Then I was ill and on short term disability...deeper cut.  Went back to work and was "laid off" two weeks later.  Finally sold the house at a loss, moved into a cheap apartment, and then into a cheaper rental w/my brother (UI less than $17K and it ran out).  Before I got a job it came down to buying groceries with a credit card, and then moving in w/new boyfriend/current spouse.

      Only a month or two into that job ($25K) I got pregnant.  Totally unexpected as I was with the ex over 8 years and no baby.  I kept chucking payments against those credit card debts.  I even went back to work, but the cost of child care ate up all the money that was previously getting paid against the debt.

      Lucky me that my spouse is employable.  I finally folded; just stopped paying because I didn't have the money to file BK.  We are fortunate and in good trim now, but it has been bumpy w/family of 3 on less than $40K some years, and multiple lay offs for my spouse.  

      It has been 8 years and just this year I am back in a family with $75K income, though now it is for a family of 3 instead of 2, and pretty much everything costs more than it did 8 years ago, and my career field has shrunken by at least 60% (admin).  If my spouse was unable to work for some reason we would fall right out the bottom of the middle class.

      Here is hoping our luck holds...

      BTW, did you catch the news that 1 in 4 U.S. counties are dying out?  Really, who can afford to have kids?

      •  I hope both your jobs hold (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ilex, worldlotus

        We too hope to be in that 2 income bracket before too long, it will make all the difference.

        When I first started reading your comment I had that sinking feeling, glad things turned out ok.

        Good luck to you and your family.

        "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

        by ban nock on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:17:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Living on foodstamps (0+ / 0-)

      this was on my local station last night
      http://www.myfoxdc.com/...

      Anyone who thinks food stamps are the be all and end all needs to watch it.

      Do not follow, for I may not lead. Do not lead, for I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

      by Ginger1 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:58:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Budgeting (7+ / 0-)

      Even though I'm horrible with numbers (Dyscalculia), I manage to budget our 11040 a year into a barely sustainable life for four of us (2 kids). At least for right now, though the first time something breaks, we're going to be in a tight spot, the trailer we bought for $6,000 with an income tax refund and payments while I could work, so we just pay lot rent in the park now (575 including water and trash). We have no a/c or heat (thankfully it's Florida so heat isn't an issue for very long), we shop very thriftily for groceries, and we pay phone/internet plus electric but gave up cable years ago. Clothes we get second hand, we also have a neighbor who participates in one of those free/trade groups who picks up clothes and such for us.

      The wiggle we have in our budget is room mates, we have three of them currently, and they help with food and utilities and one has a car, so we can get to doctor's appointments and for groceries. Two are working part time, one full time, individually they wouldn't be able to manage on their own. We could do it, barely with no luxuries so long as my son's child support wasn't late (like that would happen).

      But, we've come to a point where a family with two kids has to have room mates to be able to survive. People look at us funny when they realize we have room mates, one of which is essentially family now, she's been with us for five years.   Most people think we're sisters. But without them, we'd be really struggling to get by; as it is we're ok, so long as a hurricane or tornado doesn't come through and wipe out the trailer. It's an old trailer.

      •  you have a family of four (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barbwires, dreamghost

        plus three roommates in one trailer. Wow. That's a lot of poor people packed into one place.   Good luck to you all.  

        But the fact that you need three extra people and their income, to cover the monthly note - even with all those savings and sacrifices - is proof that our standards of measure are completely out of whack with economic reality.

        I hope good fortune finds you all.

      •  I admire you SNMOM (0+ / 0-)

        Sometimes roomates are family. We have to make family where we can in this world don't we.

        Hope your kids know they have a great mom.

        "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

        by ban nock on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:10:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ban nock

          We do what we have to do, and yes, room mates can be family sometimes. It's a four bedroom trailer, so it's not too bad space wise for the most part.

          As for the kids, I hope they do, though they likely won't admit it until they're adults LOL.

  •  Most thorough piece on poverty -- (16+ / 0-)

    -- that I've ever read here.  Excellent work!

    The 'poverty levels' were established in the early 1970s, under Nixon (even though the legislation establishing the programs had been passed under Johnson).

    Those 'thrifty groceries' that still govern the levels?  The cost of those 'thrifty groceries' were established in the 70s, when a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup cost -- wait for it -- ten cents.

    And who was in charge of the agency that established the 10-cent-can-of-soup basis for the regs?  None other than Dick Cheney, who had been given this gig by his buddy, Don Rumsfeld.  Don't have links handy, but you can look it up.

    •  I believe that the root of all evil (5+ / 0-)

      in the universe can be traced back to Dick Cheney. Snark.

      Falling forward, tumbling backward

      by campionrules on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:32:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Cheney and Rumsfeld? OY! (6+ / 0-)

      Now I know how they had the time to start Haliburton and aspartane...

      "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones"

      by roseeriter on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:36:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It was actually 1964 (8+ / 0-)

      On the cusp of Johnson's war on poverty, the subject of how to measure poverty came up at a round table, Molly Orshansky, suggested a 'rule of thumb' she'd been foodling with - three times a thrifty basket of food.

      It was an off-hand remark at a meeting and a little bit of research on the side, that produced that measure.

      Orshansky spent much of the rest of her career trying to disprove that rule of thumb.

      You can't get away with blaming the Republicans for this mess, however happy they may be with the formula.

      The current rate was actually reset under Carter. Every year we update the 1978 USDA cost of food using the CPI-U rate of inflation.  From there, we multiply that number by 3 and call it the 'poverty threshold'.

      So we are not even basing our poverty threshold on 2010 food costs, we're basing it on the cost of food in 1978, indexed to the inflation of all non-food, non-fuel costs.

      •  poverty line (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        roseeriter, barbwires, dreamghost

        I can't cite a source right now (I've been away from academia for 10 years), but I used to stress that Orshansky's product was based on information from Department of Agriculture home economists who put together a variety of plans for feeding low-income families.  The line eventually adopted by the Johnson administration was 3 times the value of an "emergency" food budget, specifically recognized as NOTproviding a nutritionally adequate menu. Other budgets were considered, but rejected as counting too many people as poor.  I'll see if I can locate verification for this datum.

        •  Over time (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dreamghost

          that 'emergency basket' got codified as a 'thrifty basket'.

          As for why other budgetary measures were rejected, you hit the nail on the head: they counted too many people as poor.  That's a bad idea if you are trying to convince the world to go along with your economic system.

          That's why none of our social statistics produce the kinds of numbers that European stats do. They have more comprehensive approaches to measuring unemployment, poverty, economic equity, etc.  

          We just hid our poor under a statistical lie.

  •  There's also a whole host of federal aid (8+ / 0-)

    programs, from job training, to housing, to healthcare that use these poverty guidelines to determine eligibility. The saving grace for many - and I work within such a program - is that we have an extensive list of what can be considered income.

    For example - In working with someone who has lost their job through no fault of their own - we don't count their income against them at all.

    Or, income for families such as UI benefits, state assistance, child support or social security benefits are not figured in as includable income.

    Unfortunately, they guidelines are limited to our particular geographic area and agency guidelines. Not all are so lucky.

    Falling forward, tumbling backward

    by campionrules on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 06:35:14 AM PST

  •  Dire Situation: Health Care and Poverty (9+ / 0-)

    The Health Care situation for the poor gets worse by the day.  Here in Florida, wingnut Governor Rick Scott has defunded primary care clinics for the poor.  Oh, by the way, Rick Scott is a founder of one of the largest for profit health care clinic chains in Florida.  I discuss the dire plight of Florida's poor without these clinics to help them in my diary (updated today):

    Florida Defunds Primary Care for the Poor

  •  fantastic diary. thank you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Situational Lefty

    what a reality check.

    "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." --Khalil Gibran

    by birdbrain64 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:12:23 AM PST

  •  THANK YOU! (7+ / 0-)

    I have been saying for years that if we were to redefine poverty measures to modern living standards, it would be terrifying to see how many in the U.S. are truly poor. Unfortunately this is the very reason I think it will never happen. We like to continue to kid ourselves that we are a prosperous nation while ignoring the fact that so many of us fall through the cracks because we aren't poor enough for assistance, but not wealthy enough to even afford the necessities.

    For housing information may I recommend the National Low Income Housing Coalition report, Out of Reach 2010?

    "...then, when the doctor wants to put a $40K stent in your heart, you offer him...the chicken." ~ Stephen Colbert

    by pidge not midge on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:21:44 AM PST

    •  pidge the midge, OMG! Just checked my county- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ilex

      un-frakking-believable.  Thanks for posting this link which I intend to forward to some disability groups whose members are in critical need of this info for pre-planning, filing forms, etc.

    •  Awesome link... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      barbwires, dreamghost, Tom Taaffe

      and would about make a diary by itself.

      I knew that, despite our label as low cost of living, our area has a lot of poverty.

      In Dallas HMFA, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $894. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $2,980 monthly or $35,760 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $17.19.

      In Dallas HMFA, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $7.25. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 95 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 2.4 minimum wage earner(s) working 40 hours per week year-round in order to make the two bedroom FMR affordable.

      The price of the apartment isn't that impressive, but we have low wages and  higher than average medical expenses, car ownership costs, property taxes, homeowner's insurance rates, and utilities.

      For an average Dallas family of four, medical care and health insurance this year will cost nearly $17,000, according to a survey of Dallas employers by risk management firm MHBT.

      "In 2020, 41 percent of a family's wage base will likely be set aside for health care," said Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt.

  •  Kick Ass & Take No Prisoners! (6+ / 0-)

    Otherwise known as tell the truth and shame the devil, in my neck of the woods.  Thank you for this comprehensive diary setting forth the truth that too many just don't want to see or accept, even on our side of the aisle, about what it really means to be poor in America and why the benchmarks we are trained to consider accurate are utterly fiction.

    If you don't stand for something, you will go for anything. Visit Maat's Feather

    by shanikka on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:22:30 AM PST

  •  Single person-I can cut >$10,000 right away. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nightsweat

    1) Use the library for internet
    2) Forget about savings
    3) Get rid of the car and get a transit pass
    4) In an apartment $3000 for heat and electric? I don't pay that much for a 4 bedroom home in a year.
    5) Forget mortgage, use the low end for renting. Hell, my mortgage on a home that 5 people live in isn't that high.

    While I agree with your premise, you're estimates show a severe lack of reality.

    •  Wow. (8+ / 0-)

      This would work great if you had access to all the things on your list: local public library, mass transit, and decent affordable housing. There are many, many areas of the country that have no access to all three. That IS the reality.

      "...then, when the doctor wants to put a $40K stent in your heart, you offer him...the chicken." ~ Stephen Colbert

      by pidge not midge on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:34:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Also presumes that none of the Internet use (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dreamghost, Tom Taaffe

        involves anything you don't mind the next person coming through to potentially access.

        One of the local libraries here has signs up declaring that anything done on the public computers has no presumption of privacy.

        They have wireless access if you've got a laptop, but that means affording a laptop. And other libraries in the area don't have that access.

        I don't know of a single bus in fifty miles not tied to a school or a church, so if you live closest to the libraries with no wireless, good luck job searching if an online application requires information you don't want spread around.

        Hoping and praying that the empty chairs and empty tables in th4e Middle East and Northern Africa when all is said and done are as few as possible.

        by Cassandra Waites on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 10:32:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yup. Our nearest library is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barbwires, dreamghost

        10 miles away. There is no public transit here, and the library's budget was cut, so they're only open a few hours a day, 3 days a week.

        The rental housing stock in our state is the oldest in the country. It's generally over 100 yrs old and uninsulated with single-pane windows and doors that don't close tightly. There may even be knob and tube wiring. The appliances are typically 1970s energy hogs. For a 1 br in a town big enough to have its own traffic light, you can expect to pay $800/mo plus heat and utilities (and possibly plowing and trash removal). For a slightly larger 2br in a more rural town with no traffic lights, you're looking at $1100/mo plus heat and utilities.

        Living in one of these buildings in an area where temps drop below zero for much of the winter means a heating bill over $1k/mo.

        And good luck if you're looking for public transit!

        The ex PHD above, lives in an unusually affordable area of the country.

    •  Rent seems high as well (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joe Bob, IARXPHD

      A look at the Chicago Reader shows 32 Studios available in places like Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Lakeview (all not bad neighborhoods at all) for under $550, and for most of them heat is included.

      Your point is taken, but you have to be harder headed about the numbers to convince a real skeptic.

      All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

      by nightsweat on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:51:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My sis lives in Rogers Park (0+ / 0-)

        Not a bad area at all, like you said!

      •  2011 ideas of "necessity" are ridiculous (0+ / 0-)

        I can see this in what is "required" for dorms in 2011. Fancy furniture, a big dresser, damn near gourmet food, private bath.

        Compare to what I had as a freshman in 1978. Tile floor, tiny sink, 6 drawer dresser for 2 people. No other furniture. Bathroom down the hall. Take it or leave it food. And very little complaining, we were at class and/or the library or work 95% of the time we weren't asleep.

        I don't spend what the diarist mentioned on transport and I live in a suburb. I've got a 11 yr old car so my insurance, gas, and maint. might total $2,500 a year.

        •  My numbers are taken from (8+ / 0-)

          the Department of Labor 2009 consumer spending reports. They include car payments, gas, oil, repairs, fees, taxes and insurance.

          as I said, your personal budget may differ from this number. Your circumstances and needs may differ from this number. But you can't build a measure for understanding poverty or the number of people involved by discounting every bit of good luck and/or unique circumstances from a measure of the economic norm.

          My car is 23 years old. When I had to teach at two colleges 2 1/2 hours from each other on opposite sides of the state and my home, I spent more than this on transportation.

          Now that I am unemployed, my car sits in the backyard, being maintained until I need it for work again. So I spend less.

          My insurance is over a 1000 dollars. In part because I'm still considered a 'new driver' (6 years on the road with no points taken off). In part because my insurance is calculated at the same rate as a Boston driver (even though I live two hours away and never go there).

          And finally, because I am poor, went through bankruptcy and have poor credit, I pay 300 dollar premimum to a credit company on top of my insurance in order to be able to make monthly payments, because the insurance companies wanted a year's insurance paid up front.

          My sister commutes to work by railevery day. She spends a 150 a week, just on the commuter train.
          Yet another way the poor pay more.  That's 7500 dollars right there in transportation costs and she hasn't gone shopping for food yet.

          I'm glad your transportation number is lower than my budgeted amount. But that number is reflective of what people in this country pay for transportation, including owning and maintaining a car legally.

      •  I don't know the chicago market (7+ / 0-)

        but a friend of mine - who was homeless for 3 months, until I sheltered him for another 3, just got an 8X10 studio in Northampton Ma for 500 a month, in a hotel turned SRO, that is the site of a murder every couple of years.  This is in Western Massachusetts, 2 hours by car from Boston.

        Please read the Joint Center for housing's 2008 report on rental affordability.  They did a far more comprehensive survey of rental costs than you or I did.

        Even the apartments in the cheapest towns in America - rural northern Alabama, rural Kansas - requires 24,000 dollars in wages or more to afford.

      •  My numbers for rent are taken from (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joe Bob, Cassandra Waites, dreamghost

        Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Research 2008 report on rental housing.  it was based on exhaustive survey research and canvased well over a thousand towns and cities.

         The median price for a studio in Chicago these days is 983 dollars .

        Yes, good deals are found. I pay half the current market ratefor my apartment. I have a quaker for a landlord - bless her - who is the annoyance of every landlord around her. They feel she is dragging down the rent they charge, by letting me rent at such a low rate.

        But I've been living here since that rent was the market rate. I also shovel her sidewalk in the winter, repaired plumbing, rebuilt the plaster in the hallway and done other repairs as a way of saying thank you.

        Not everyone has my good fortune or my skill set.

        We can't use every exception or bit of good fortune to  discount what should be a uniform measure of need and want.  It should be based on what things costs in your community.

        Assuming all other things are equal, the difference in rent between Boston and Chicago should produce a different poverty threshold for each city, Boston being higher.  

        If a poor person has a good rent deal, they should be able to bank that forward as a leg up on getting out of poverty. We should not be using it as an excuse to cut them out of other resources. They are still poor, they are just more fortunate than other poor people.

        •  Rent deals? (0+ / 0-)
          If a poor person has a good rent deal, they should be able to bank that forward as a leg up on getting out of poverty.

          If the poor person also receives government assistance in any form, a rent deal will cause their benefits to be lowered.  In turn, the poor person only has $50-100 more per month or they are no better off or worse off, depending on which state the poor person lives.

          Got Books? www.membranachristianbooks.com Need Cables? www.yourcablestore.com

          by sweettp2063 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 12:09:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  precisely my point (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            barbwires, dreamghost

            which is why I included savings in the budget.  It may be a fact of reality that the poor can't save, and it is certainly true that if you got a good rent deal, social services would economically punish you for your fortune. But when we think about what the poor need, we also need to include savings.

            Because if they can't save, they can't escape poverty.

            And if the point of addressing poverty is to make fewer people poor, we need to let them rebuild their nest egg as well as addressing the other needs they have.

            Of course, the best way to reduce poverty in this country is by running a public employment program, like the WPA, and using it to train and track people out of poverty, once the economy recovers.

            •  I agree with what you say (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              dreamghost

              however, to save money for a nest egg you must have money.

              For the poor that's almost impossible when after all basic necessities there is a whole $5-10 a month left over in "mad" money.

              As you may already know, there is another problem when a person receives government assistance there is a $2000 limit on savings/resources.  That amount does not constitute a nest egg but instead it is an emergency fund for heating bills, car repairs, and whatever that can be used up quickly.  

              I'm on SSI and the limit of $2000 was made back in 1989 and if adjusted for inflation today the limit would be $5885 for an individual.    here's the link  For the most part, that is true for all government assistance programs.

              In other words, it's nearly impossible for someone to get out of poverty.  Congress refuses to act except to make it harder and harder for the poor.  But hey, that's the way the Republicans like it and they seem to always get what they want with help from the appeasing Democrats.

              Same crap different decade.

              Got Books? www.membranachristianbooks.com Need Cables? www.yourcablestore.com

              by sweettp2063 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:50:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  We are agreed (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                sweettp2063, dreamghost

                Thank you for the additional details. I saw a MassHealth document when I was writing this piece. It basically demanded everything except 2000 dollars in savings, if MassHealth was responsible for assisted elderly care.  

                It gave the state the power to take the family home and dispose of the person's possessions, to cover the medical bills.  That's for a bed in a nursing home.

                Wow.  That's incredible. What a creepy system.  Instead of a corporation seizing the family home, its the state. And they call that 'health care reform.'

                I agree, we've constructed a catch-22 system that absolutely chains everyone that reaches out for aid in poverty.  Its paternalistic, miserly, callously destructive and totally substandard.

                J.R. Rowlings and the Beatles could create masterworks on UK welfare (hardly the international gold standard), but in America, you can hardly afford a healthy meal, let alone assistance in escaping poverty.

    •  Mass transit (9+ / 0-)

      is a joke in many American cities.  I've lived, or spent significant amounts of time, in nearly every major city on the West Coast, and the only one that had anything approaching decent mass transit, IMO, was the SF area.  I lived there for a year and almost never had to use my car.

      The reality in the rest of the places I've lived is that if you want affordable housing you have to go out to the 'burbs to find it.  And once you're in the 'burbs, using mass transit to get around is, at best, difficult and time-consuming, and at worst it's downright impossible.

      But to address the rest of your comment:

      Library is fine, if you can get to one.  

      Forget about savings - why should we expect anyone to do that?  Have you ever lived paycheck to paycheck with absolutely nothing to fall back on in case of emergency?  I have, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone except maybe Tim Geithner and Ben Bernacke - for them, I think it'd be a very useful learning experience.

      Heat and electric - well, I guess everyone could move to the Southwest and leave states like Maine and North Dakota, in order to cut back on their heating bills, but that hardly seems like a good plan.

      Forget mortgage - tell you what, you go first.  Sell your house and go find an apartment for your family of five that costs less than what you currently pay for housing.

      ‎"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." -- Anatole France

      by Mehitabel9 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:59:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not to start a pissing contest.... (0+ / 0-)

        BUT
        Remember, i was addressing the costs for a single person.

        The reality in the rest of the places I've lived is that if you want affordable housing you have to go out to the 'burbs to find it.  And once you're in the 'burbs, using mass transit to get around is, at best, difficult and time-consuming, and at worst it's downright impossible.

        Looking in my town, and in Chicago, I'm finding plenty of affordable apartments (<1,000/mon) in decent neighborhoods in areas with mass transit, the more expensive apts are in the burbs.
        Library is fine, if you can get to one.

        OK, but if you have a job, internet is not a necessity.

        Forget about savings - why should we expect anyone to do that?  Have you ever lived paycheck to paycheck with absolutely nothing to fall back on in case of emergency?  

        Yes, for most of my almost 51 yrs, actually, to avoid accumulating debt. Again, it's nice, but not a necessity.
        Heat and electric - well, I guess everyone could move to the Southwest and leave states like Maine and North Dakota, in order to cut back on their heating bills, but that hardly seems like a good plan.

        Living in the Upper Midwest as I do, I do recall that it's pretty cold from November to April. And we wear sweaters and sweat cloths and set the temp at 65 in comfort. And it gets pretty toasty here in the summer, but we don't die with the windows open until it gets to 90+, that's the only time the A/C is used.

        Forget mortgage - tell you what, you go first.  Sell your house and go find an apartment for your family of five that costs less than what you currently pay for housing.

        I wasn't talking about a family of 5, I was referring to the figures above for A SINGLE PERSON.

        The figures above reflect what I'd call a middle class lifestyle. Not poverty. And that is what the numbers, ridiculously low as they are, represent.
        If we (5) were able to live comfortably while I was in Grad school with a combined family income of about $45,000 with myself and a child in college, I'm guessing a single person can do it for less than $39,000.

      •  That is so true (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barbwires, Mehitabel9, dreamghost
        " Sell your house and go find an apartment for your family of five that costs less than what you currently pay for housing."

        Before the bubble burst, I had friends who bought homes because it was cheaper than renting.  

        While home prices have certainly collapsed in many areas, rents did not collapse, they just grew stagnant and declined a little.  In places like Boston, they actually rebounded and have started to climb again.

        In no short measure, because more people have lost their homes and more are competing for aparments to rent.

    •  no one is saying (4+ / 0-)

      no one is saying people cant live on less.  Christ homeless people survivie in this country day to day.

      The point is, poverty. Living in such a way is poverty.

      Bad is never good until worse happens

      by dark daze on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:45:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is what they do and why we are so screwed. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dreamghost

        Fail to read and/or Ignore the point, then pick on what they don't want to see to distract from that point.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

        by Greyhound on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 11:16:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Not everyone's expenses are the same (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dreamghost

      My heating costs pretty much match the single person totals. Having a second or third person in the home would only boost it up, since people would more likely to be home more hours of the week. That number is the average household heating expenditure for 2009.

      I got most of my numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that's the average expense (unlinked numbers are my 'best guesses' of current costs).  Sorry, they didn't break it down to apartment size, region, household or income size.

      Not everyone has acess to mass transportation and not all mass transportation is cheap. My sister spends 7500 dollars a year on commuter rails and then she needs a car to get around her neighborhood.  So her transportation costs are higher than my averages.

      Please don't suggest she move closer to work, because she's living as far away as she is, because she can't afford to live any closer.  And she was born, raised and lived most of her life living in the same city as her job (NYC). She got driven out by the high cost of living.  

      Using the library internet service to find work is the best way to be the last one to get your application in.  Your kids will be at a disadvantage when compared to other kids. And with standardized testing mandatory in all parts of this country, they will be compared with other kids.  

      You need a computer and internet access just to file for unemployment benefits these days, never mind do the research necessary to write a competent cover letter for a job, or be prepared for an interview.  Try calling unemployment insurance and getting a live person on the phone. Good luck to you.  And the phone-version of filing can be very confusing, even for someone like me with three degrees.  Filing via the internet is the preferred method as far as the state is concerned and its the best way for the unemployed to do it as well.  

      So you need a computer and an internet connection in the 21st century if you want to have an income, find a job or make sure your kids can keep up at school.

      And don't get me started on the difference between mortgages and renting. Mortgages build equity and the payments should lessen over time.  Home prices rise and fall with the market. But renters do not develop equity - which increases credit available and improves their terms - they pay for other people's equity, while they incur only cost.

      Rents do not necessarily follow prices. Rents sagged after the housing crash and more bargains were evident, but in most places rent prices have stabilized and started to recover. In some places, they've started to rise again, even as the sales end of the market continues to suffer.  

  •  Thanks for a wonderful write-up (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus

    I only wish this information gets out and understood. (I can dream, can't I?)
    Maybe the time has come for a real grass roots action to get some attention for the truth about poverty.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:31:25 AM PST

  •  Making Ends Meet (5+ / 0-)

    Have you read Making Ends Meet by Kathryn Edin? It's a great book. She did a close qualitative study of how people were getting by at these very low incomes. She shows how they survive below poverty. There were lots of strategies, but when she looks at a full budget it ended up that only one actually made less than the poverty number (which as you say is not enough to get by). They did yard sales, lotteries, getting help from family here and there, lots of things. It's really interesting to read.

  •  Awesome diary. (9+ / 0-)

    I've noticed, now and again, that there are certain social-safety-net services out there (perhaps all of them, I haven't researched it) for which qualification to participate is "150% of poverty" or "200% of poverty".  

    I've always wondered, if someone can qualify for public assistance when they earn "200% of poverty", why the official poverty level isn't just raised.  

    It strikes me as a dishonest and disingenuous way for our beloved federal government to skew the numbers to try to make it seem like poverty isn't a big problem in America.

    ‎"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." -- Anatole France

    by Mehitabel9 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 07:45:43 AM PST

  •  I totally agree. I just found out (6+ / 0-)

    when applying for my son to get into Job Corps, that we're rich. Job Corps uses fed income guidelines for qualification. According to that, a family of 2 can't make more than $14,700-something.

    I have low housing costs compared to many, and just my housing is more than $7200/yr. That doesn't include the $1000/yr for property/car insurance. The $5000/yr in health insurance. The $2400/yr in heating/elec.

    We're already at $15,600 and I haven't even paid phone and bought food yet....

    I actually make $21,800. That leaves me $6200/yr (or $517mo) to pay for everything else. (Car repairs, gas, food, phone, clothes, etc)

    I don't feel I'm in "poverty", but I'm not living high on the hog like some might believe.

    Guns don't die, people do

    by second gen on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:08:37 AM PST

  •  One of the best diaries ever (7+ / 0-)

    here at dkos!

    The poor have been totaly forgotten by everyone and it is shameful to see how the latest bright shiny object has directed our attention away from those most in need.

    Thank you for this great diary!

    The United States is not just losing its capacity to do great things. It's losing its soul.--Bob Herbert

    by gulfgal98 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:37:26 AM PST

  •  I am at the poverty line (10+ / 0-)

    (actually slightly above it) and have survived the past 4 years at that level. I don't recommend it. We eat one meal a day (well, more often for my 83 YO MIL), and spend 5-6 hours a day with our guts rumbling. We work outside 4-6 hours a day w/o insulated gloves, etc...Haven't bought new clothes in 4 years. I think we would have made it out from under the medical bills and personal creditors (when a guy shows up in your kitchen with a gun, you give him whatever money you got!!!), but when they raised our mortgage modification from 1250 to 1790, it was the breaking point. If we could have saved even a few hundred last year, to invest in ourselves maybe we could have figured something out... but I don't know.
    for the record 92% of everything we make goes to citifinancial for our mortgage. If we give up the farm, there goes most of our income.

    This isn't living, This is bare survival.

    I was once a treehouse, I lived in a cake, but I never saw the way the orange slayed the rake... The Llama Song.

    by farmerchuck on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 08:56:15 AM PST

  •  Great diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dreamghost

    Very well done.

    The last economy to follow the principles espoused by the Republicans and their silly centrist dupes was based out of the Kremlin in Moscow circa 1918-1989. -- liberaldregs

    by cloudbustingkid on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:10:32 AM PST

  •  People who are living off their savings (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roseeriter, dreamghost, worldlotus

    should be counted, but aren't in the hope they turn it around somehow. In this economy, once you're in the cycle, it's almost impossible to get out. Thanks for the diary.

    "Such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing." - Thomas Paine

    by blueoregon on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:26:43 AM PST

  •  the term is caveat not cavat nt (0+ / 0-)
  •  Good diary (5+ / 0-)

    I have been meaning to do one comparing the official poverty guidelines vs what is known as the "living wage"

    http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/

    As an example, in my area the comparison is with standard poverty level for a family of four ($22,350/yr, or $1,862.50 per month). This is $10.75 per hour for one worker, or half that if the family has two earners.

    (Side note, if two earners the hourly rate would be $5.37/hr. Compare to minimum wage of $7.25/hr)

    The living wage calculator for my area shows that two adults with two children must bring in a total $28.07 per hour, ($58,386 per year, $4865/mo) in order to meet their basic needs without assistance.

    The living wage movement has appeared to fizzle in the past several years. Perhaps this is the time for it to make a comeback.

  •  I'm w/ the Majority in the Poll (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires, benny05, ilex, Tom Taaffe

    i.e. Democrats "are making no real effort". and I'm being generous... it would be rather easy to prove they're making things worse for the poor.

    prime example: Obama stating he needs to cut home heating aid for the poor.

    what a Load.

    "I don't feel the change yet". Velma Hart

    by Superpole on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 10:17:49 AM PST

    •  only 1% (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Superpole, benny05, dreamghost

      thinks we are doing what we can. 91% think we aren't doing enough or worse. And 38% say our current policies are making things worse.  

      The remaining 8% think the poor don't vote and so they shouldn't matter.

      I guess that's the voting bloc the Democrats are counting on to get them relected. Its certainly the group that's advising obama.

  •  You should turn this into a book so it can get the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    benny05, Tom Taaffe

    attention and the audience that it deserves.

    How can anyone in this coujtry claim that they " Are Proud to be an American"?

  •  It's worse than even many of you know. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires, benny05, aliasalias, dreamghost

    They just kicked everyone who gets SSI in the household off TANF, at least in WA.  We are a family of 5, I'm applying for disability and my husband is on disability and I just got a letter kicking me off TANF because we get "too much money."  My husband's check is $606/mo of which we only get $537.  Even with the $440/mo from TANF we were 50% BELOW what the US Census Poverty Threshold for our household size.  Plus they recently reduced food stamps and medical coverage with more cuts coming. The sad thing is my story is not unique, there are families even worse off than we are, we at least do still have section 8 for the time being so we only have to pay $202 for rent.

  •  Poverty levels are to conceal, not measure. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roseeriter, barbwires, benny05, dreamghost

    My friend, the Sociology Professor, has a class ritual that she asks her students to perform every semester. They have to calculate the minimum living wage here in Sin City (a very mid-level city expense-wise) far a single adult with no children to be self sufficient. For the last 10+ years it has consistently come out between $19 and $22 p/hr plus health care.

    The purpose of "our" government's poverty level is to hide the real rate of inflation, to use the term most Americans understand. Ever since the late 70's, the policy has been to hide inflation through devaluation of our currency. This has effectively concealed the decline of America's standard of living by putting it under the control of the extra-governmental Federal Reserve bank, where there is no transparency, no oversight, and no accountability.

    The shrub administration eliminated the last shred of public evidence by eliminating the baseline in the inflation calculations with the "flexible basket" in 2003 IIRC.

    When I read about Americans complaining about struggling on incomes over $100k, it just shows me how insulated and stratified this culture has become.

    As bad as we might think it is now, it's much worse than we know. And nobody in DC is allowed to talk about it, they are not on our side.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

    by Greyhound on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 11:10:11 AM PST

  •  Truth Telling (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires, dreamghost

    Thank you for debunking the poverty level statistics myth.   Obama promised John Edwards in return for his support to do something about it.  His administration has been crickets on this issue.  

  •  This is good research, but it's old news (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires

    Federal poverty statistics have been out of touch with reality since forever. Regional differences in cost of living alone render them meaningless.

    A think a better measure of despair in America is food insecurity, a measure kept by the US Department of Agriculture.

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/...

    At nearly 15% of Americans, this is an all-time high. Food insecurity means worrying about getting enough to eat at some point during the year. It's about the starkest measure of poverty you can get, so it's useful as a baseline.

    This is nearly 50,000,000 people in the U.S. Worried about not getting enough to eat during the year. The questionnaire used for the survey is heartbreaking all by itself.

    But hey, the Dow is still over 12,000 even with the troubles in Libya, so who cares, right?

    It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness - Eleanor Roosevelt

    by Fish in Illinois on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 12:09:51 PM PST

  •  All You Say is Accurate and more ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    also mom of 5, dreamghost

    As a long time activist for low income people for several decades and low income myself, all you note is true.  

    I would add that hatred and blaming of the poor is costing us billions in highly unnecessary "services" that do little for the poor except soothe the elite.  That the money could spent far better if we stopped blaming the poor for all our social ills and began to see where this hatred actually comes from: the deadbeat non-taxpayers and very greedy Americans who have convinced the middle class to, "Quick!  Look over there!  The poor! Welfare Mom!"  Meanwhile the rich are picking the pockets of the middle class while nobody is looking and blaming the poor for all our expenses and social ills, when in fact almost all our troubles are coming from the rich, not the poor.  

    I have also written about it in 2 articles.  One here:
    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    And I have also written about the corruption of the foster cares system where low income families are being emptied of their children and actually sold on the open market, thanks to the Title IV funding being taken out of Social Security: http://www.dailykos.com/...

    Many middle class people have believed this crap for decades. That is up until it happens to them and then it is a rude awakening when they go into access the safety net they have refused to pay into and find that while they were looking the other way and their pockets were being picked, all those services are gone and there is nothing there for them.  

    What was it that Niemeuller wrote on a piece of toilet paper while sitting in the death camps awaiting his death? "...Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak ... when they came for me there was no one left to speak" etc.  

    Just sayin' ...
    Cat in Seattle

    First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they hurt you, then you win ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    by mntleo2 on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:14:07 PM PST

  •  Government subsidies & the 'rich' poor (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roseeriter

    This is a great diary and a great effort on your part to recalculate teh poverty rate.

    Now, something you haven't addressed is that for the poor, there is subsidized rental units (a bandaid solution with a LOOONG waiting list - another diary topic for another day), subsidized children's health insuirnace (SCHIP), subsidized school lunch & breakfast, and home heating subsidies, and on top of that tax refunds like EITC and Child Tax credit.

    This is all good. But unfortunately a lot of this is tied, again, to the federal poverty level. If you are significantly above poverty level, then you no longer qualify for these subsidies.  So you could be living hand-to-mouth with your $50k income, and receive NO subsidies for any of those things. Therein lies a paradox. A family earning $50k, is ironically not much better off than the familly earning $25k. Because the latter gets all of this subsidies while the former gets nothing. A lot of the working clas white resentment is because of this.  These people make too much to qualify for aid, but they see they poorer neighbors get all of this government aid, and jealousy naturally rears its ugly head.

  •  A picture is worth a thousand statistics (6+ / 0-)

    U.S. poverty is also being concealed by media, who do not reflect back to us the country we have become.  We seldom see the tent cities, the homeless children, the miserable living conditions.  Instead, Americans are watching ourselves living magical lives in expensive Manhattan apartments with no obvious means of support.  In the television and movie version, Americans are well-dressed and enjoy plenty of leisure time.  For just one example, in the recent film Crazy Heart, our heroine seems to be living in a decent single-family home on the salary of a waitress.  She is raising a baby alone, and finds time to take off work and travel.  There was no mention of affording diapers, food, or medicine.  No worry about where the gasoline or heating is coming from.  Perhaps it is the sign of the truly educated person to be moved by statistics.  Even for the educated, visual images, real reporting, is infinitely more effective.

    Photobucket

    Photobucket

    Don't believe everything you think.

    by geomoo on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 01:43:56 PM PST

  •  Eye-opening. And heartbreaking. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Amber6541, Tom Taaffe
  •  ' in an economy being remodeled by neglect.'... (0+ / 0-)

    You had me right there. Great diary, thanks!

    Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

    by FarWestGirl on Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 03:13:36 PM PST

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