What does it mean to live below the Poverty Line?

According to the Census Bureau’s 2018 poverty threshold, the poverty level for a household of four is an annual income of $25,100 (Lino, 2017). The federal poverty level is the indicator the U.S. government uses to determine who can receive assistance. Being poor means basic material needs like rent, utilities, food, and clean water, aren’t being met (Woodside & McClam, 2015, p146). People who make at, or below, the poverty level aren’t able to participate fully in daily life.

According to the USDA, 2015 Consumer Expenditure Survey, a family making under $59,200 annually can expect to spend between $9,330 to $9,980 to raise a child, depending on age of the child. These amounts cover basic needs like food and shelter and doesn’t include health care and college expenses. Shelter is the biggest expense followed by food, then the cost to send the child to school (including transportation, supplies and daycare costs). The cost of raising children goes up the more money the family makes (Lino, 2017).

You can see by the math that people at, or below, the poverty line are in desperate straits. If it costs an average of $9500 to raise a child, then this family needs to make another $12,100 to just meet basic needs. They only make enough money to live paycheck to paycheck. So, if a child gets sick and a parent has to miss work to care for the child, that parent’s paycheck is not going to be enough to pay their basic bills (food and shelter) because they’re already on a strapped budget. In this situation, neither parent could ever afford to take a day off – or they could risk completely losing their home or going hungry. Fortunately, there are some federal programs that could help this family.

The public assistance programs that use the poverty threshold are nutrition assistance programs, and the affordable care act. Public assistance programs that don’t use poverty guidelines but would also be available for this family are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Security Income (HHS, 2018). To apply for nutrition assistance, a family must earn 130% of the federal poverty level and hold less than $3500 in assets. The Affordable Care Act gives assistance to households between 138% and 400% of the poverty level (HHS, 2018). Other programs available to this family are, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (HHS, 2018).

HHS (2018). U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines Used to Determine Financial Eligibility For Certain Federal Programs. Human Health Service. Office of the Assistant Secretary. Retrieved from: http//aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines

Lino, M. (2017). The Cost of Raising a Child. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from: https//www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child

Woodside, M.R., & McClam, T. (2015). An introduction to human services (8th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

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