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The Federal Poverty Line is Too Damn Low


The Federal Poverty Line is Too Damn Low

Shawn Fremstad

The U.S. Census Bureau’s announcement today that the number of Americans living below the poverty line fell between 2014 and 2015 is good news. But before we get too excited, it is worth noting that the federal poverty line was a meager $12,000 for a single person living alone in 2015 (and only about $24,000 for a married couple living with two children).


A national minimum wage of $17.50 an hour (income tax free) a job for whomever wants one, and affordable child care would go a long way in solving our poverty problem.
That way the only people in poverty would be those who chose that lifestyle.


I heard an economist interviewed about this on the news today. He said that many states have recently raised their minimum wages, which means the median income has gone up. While this is possible regarding household income, considering the difference between median and mean, the only way minimum wage increase could increase the overall median income is if half of all workers make minimum wage. Makes me wonder if the economists are hired to make the politicians look good.


Is it HUD that advises housing costs be a third of pre-tax income? Where I am, typical one-bedroom rents are around $850. This yields a minimum of $30,600 per year for an individual, much higher than anything suggested to be the poverty line.

Could you simply adjust the poverty line around an individual's or household's housing costs, so that each person's "poverty line" be measured this way?


I'd like to see our senators and congressman live on those salaries for 5 years and then see if they think that's too low.


Shawn Fremstad's idea for defining poverty as half the median income is a bad idea - it just doesn't get at the issue of what it means to be poor. It seems to me that a definition of a poverty level income should be somehow based on the concept of a "living wage" - what does it take to have adequate housing, food, clothing, child care, education, access to information and the like ... (note that might be different if you live in New York City than if you live in Central Ohio).

Here's a crazy example to illustrate why Fremstad's idea doesn't work mathematically: Suppose someone with a few trillion dollars decided to give his money away in a manner so that every adult american with an income below the 60th percentile would see their incomes double. Poor people would now be richer but, under Fernstad's definition, the poverty rate would not go up since the median would double and the percentage below half the median would still be the same.

A better measure of poverty (linked to the cost of a basket of essential activities in your location) would not have that problem. By my measure if previously poor people do better than fewer people are then poor - as it should be.


The economists were probably figuring that when the minimum wage goes up, others get a raise too. That does happen to a certain extent.


Exactly - poverty needs to be defined by what it costs to live decently.


Adam Smith said as much over 240 years ago in his great treatise, Wealth of Nations. The discussion over the distinction between nominal and real wages illustrates the point:
"In this popular sense, therefore, labour, like commodities, may be said to have a real and a nominal price. Its real price may be said to consist in the quantity of the necessaries and conveniencies of life which are given for it; its nominal price, in the quantity of money. The labourer is rich or poor, is well or ill rewarded, in proportion to the real, not to the nominal price of his labour."


Congressmembers work a TON. Are you forgetting all the campaign fundraisers they have to do? What about all those meetings with lobbyists at fancy vacation resorts? Legislation doesn't write itself, you know!


These people live in a complete bubble. They have no idea how the rabble in the general population live and as far as they are concerned, the poor are better off than in any other time before. After all, they have television plus all kinds of money to buy drugs so they must be in the best financial condition ever, right?

The reason the poverty line is at the low point it is is because it provides a baseline from which to measure the amount of benefits (entitlements) that recipients of Social Security and TANF receive. The lower that baseline is the less in benefits to be paid out and all the more for these asshole congresspeople to give their corporate sponsors.


This is a subject that is very near and dear to me for many years. I have been living on about 12k for about five years. I'm also about to be homeless in two weeks, unless something good and amazing happens. I'm a former homeowner who lost my house, life savings and business in 2011. I have not been able to recover, and I'm 60 years old now. I get the maximum of SNAP assistance, and am in shock when I see how little that gets me at the average grocery store. I have a friend who is 69 who is in worse shape, getting only $63 a month for food. She's working (we both stock shelves in grocery stores—this is hard, physical labor, sometimes lifting cases weighing 60 pounds). Getting a real job in my field at my age is basically impossible. Housing is incredibly tight here in PDX, and I would have to be making 30k a year to afford the CHEAPEST of apartment rents ($900/month for a studio or 1 bedroom). Affordable/subsidized housing has waiting lists of three to TEN and more years. It's absolutely horrifying.

I've written to the black hole that is the Executive Office/Congress/Senate about raising the numbers. Never a response.


There are lies

Damned lies

And statistics to hide them


Only those who choose that lifestyle plus those unable to work.......too old, disabled, etc.


Maybe try looking for roommates in a similar situation (Craigslist or something). I know that sucks but it is better than being homeless.


The median income per household went up. Any households with minimum wage workers in it seeing a raise could raise that household's total income above the previous year's median.


So, if the poverty line was where it should be and exposed that a minimum wage job is not enough to achieve that line, well, that would show that a large number of Americans are actually living in Stephen Foster's America and that is why the line does not move. It is the mask of slavery.


The median household income has been stagnant since 2000. Statistically speaking, the entire American public has not had a single raise in 16 years. Factor in the increased cost of living during this period and the loss of purchasing power of a dollar, we've actually gone 33% backwards. These are the things Americans should be clamoring to change.