Pat Conover: Sharing the Journey
Basic Poverty Facts

Lake Atitlan From Solola
Seekers Church School of Christian Living
Understanding Poverty Class
Summarized by Pat Conover
March 1, 2009

In 2007 12.5% of people were in poverty according to the Bureau of the Census. This is 37.3 million people.

The Census Bureau poverty line in 2007 for one unrelated individual was $10,787 for individuals under 65 and $9,944 for people over 65. For a two person family under 65 the line was $13,954. Over 65, the line was 12,550. (Note the assumption of shared expenses and the implication that one of the most important paths out of poverty is to get married and share expenses.) The poverty standards for Alaska and Hawaii are a couple of thousand dollars higher because of higher living costs. In 2009 the standards of the Department of Health and Human Services were $240 higher for individuals and $1,030 higher for a two person family than the 2007 Bureau of the Census numbers. The HHS numbers guide the distribution of many federal poverty benefits.

The median income for all 116,783,000 families in the United States in 2007 was $50,233, about 3 to 4 times the poverty level. This means, for example, that states which subsidize the health care of children in families with incomes up to 300 percent of poverty are getting close to subsidizing close to half the population.

In 2005 20 percent of the population had a household income under $18,500 and about half of this quintile owned their own homes. Assume for the moment that the comparable number in 2009 was $20,000. That works out to about $400 a week or $10 an hour for a common 40 hour work week. A married couple in which each earned the minimum wage would have an income significantly above the poverty level and comfortable above the first quintile level (20% level) The current minimum wage is $6.55 an hour and becomes $7.25 an hour in July. A single unrelated worker earning the minimum wage would have an income for full-time, full-year, work that is just above the poverty level and below the upper line of the first quintile.

About 1.7 million workers earned the minimum wage or less in 2007. Remember the federal minimum wage does not cover everyone. Most states have minimum wage laws with levels equal to or higher than the federal minimum wage and many states cover some additional workers not covered by the federal minimum wage, for example state and local government workers. I remember working for the City of Tallahassee for 87 cents an hour when the federal minimum wage was a dollar an hour.

Remember. All of the above numbers are for the civilian, non-institutionalized, population. The military provides a path out of poverty not included in the above reference facts.

Remember. Millions of workers cannot get full-time, full-year, work.

Remember. Most low-wage work has few or no benefits.

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