Monday, September 1, 2014

Poor definition

What does it mean to be poor? Officially, you’re in poverty if you fall below a certain income threshold set by the U.S. Census Bureau. For a family of four with two children, that line is $23,624.

That makes sense if you live in a place like San Francisco where almost everything costs an arm and a leg. I just spent a summer there, and to rent a small studio I had to pay about three times the amount that I pay for my apartment in Davis. 

It would be impossible for a family of four with two children to live in a place like San Francisco with an annual income of $23,624.

But what if you don’t live in San Francisco? What if you live in Rich Hill, Missouri? 

Let’s suppose that a family of four with two children live in Rich Hill with an annual income of $15,080. This figure is the annual salary of a job that pays the federal minimum wage,
assuming that one works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year.

There weren’t any Craigslist listings for Rich Hill, so I searched for an apartment in the closest metropolitan area, Kansas City, Missouri, which happens to be the largest municipality in the state. I found a 3-bedroom detached house
that costs $650 per month to rent, located about 10 miles from downtown Kansas City. I’m assuming that it would be cheaper to live in a much smaller community like Rich Hill.

I called a store in Rich Hill to see get a perspective on how much certain grocery items cost. There, a gallon of 2%-fat milk costs $4.75, and a loaf of bread costs $1.50. 

With rent at $650 a month, we would spend $7,800 in a year for rent. Let’s assume utilities will cost $75 per month. Let’s also assume that groceries for a family of four would cost $400 a month. These expenses will total $13,500 per year, with $1,580 remaining in cash.

So what more does the Census Bureau expect from low-income families? There are a lot of places in this world where families don’t get to live in a 3-bedroom house with plumbing, heating, and food on the table. What else does one have to be able to afford to avoid being labeled as “poor” or “in poverty”?

According to the Census Bureau, 27.2% of individuals in Rich Hill live below the poverty level; t
he national poverty rate is 15%.

The trouble with these nationwide standards, such as the poverty threshold, is that they’re national. Rather, communities, such as Rich Hill, should be judged by its own standards. What makes one poor in Rich Hill shouldn’t be measured by what makes one poor in San Francisco. 

In addition, numerical figures do not paint a complete picture. The lack of access to quality healthcare, education, and job opportunities may be factors in determining poverty, but these factors cannot be taken into account by simply looking at annual incomes. 

Until otherwise, there are hard working families that are able to put a roof over their heads and food on the table, but are nevertheless labeled as poor or impoverished. Being labeled as such results in unnecessary criticism, negative stereotypes, prejudice, and embarrassment. And that’s not fair.


Moona said...

I completely agree. The cost of living in a highly urbanized city like San Francisco and Los Angeles is much higher than living in a rural area. So, I agree that the definition of "low-income" or "poor" should be variable based on the cost of living of a particular area. In an area like San Francisco you could be making $40,000 a year, double the national poverty limit, and still be "low-income" or "poor". Although it seems like the cost of the grocery items you listed seem higher in Rich Hill than in Sacramento where my family is from. I wonder if food is generally priced higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Perhaps that would make sense since more urban/suburban areas may have more resources to have food and products brought in.

David Gomez said...

Charlie, you have the best titled post so far. The definition of poverty is relative to the community being analyzed. Large urban cities and smaller rural towns cannot be reconciled by a bottom line figure like annual income. What is most important though is that rural areas are poorer than urban areas. Other factors like decreased access to health care and employment contribute to this problem.

Juliana said...

Well put. Your post also raised another interesting issue related to economic justice -- food access. It was particularly striking to me that a gallon of milk in Rich Hill cost $4.74, which is slightly more than a gallon of milk in Davis. On the other hand, given the cost of living is much lower in Rich Hill than in Davis, this raising an interesting question regarding access to food.