Posted tagged ‘US poverty level’

Perspectives of Poverty

December 8, 2011

It is insightful to me that politicians commonly use the phase “middle class” to defend their various positions and to give me my opinion, yet, they fail to define the term.  I enjoy asking prospective candidates to do so.  One particularly astute individual responded he prefers the term “middle income” to “middle class”.  I like that theme so I offer my own definition. From an economic perspective:  the middle class does not require government assistance to subsist, those in the lower class do, and those in the upper class could stop working for the rest of their lives today if they wanted and their basic needs would be met.  While not perfectly academic, it offers perspective both on how much we earn and how we choose to spend.

The US poverty level for 2011 is total family yearly income of $22,350 (a family of four) 1.  This is the standard below which much government aid is provided.  This may or may not be indicative of “poverty” within the mindset of most Americans.  I ask the reader to ponder how their personal income compares to that? How does the reader’s household income compare should both parents earn a salary?

I recall news commentaries during the period when banks and auto manufacturers came under US government ownership stating that one cannot live in American making less than $100,000 a year.  Recently a politician commented his $150,000 government salary was insufficient.  That begets an interesting question: What values does that standard of “poverty” reflect? What is a sustainable standard of living?

Taking a world view I offer this: According to Unicef nearly a quarter of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25US a day 2.  That is $456.25US a year, quite a far distance from $22,350.  How does your salary compare now?

I forward this notion not to disparage those who earn money, as I believe capitalism is the most innovative, effective economic model created to date.  I ask the deeper question: why do we work to earn what we earn and are we satisfied with the result?  What is our perspective of poverty and how does it match to the condition of the world?


1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (20 January 2011). Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines (Federal Registry Notice). Retrieved from

2. United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) (2009) Rethinking Poverty: Report on the World  Social Situation 2010. Page 1. Retrieved from