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The Struggle of Poverty

Updated on April 23, 2016
Photo of a young girl receiving a school-provided lunch in 1936
Photo of a young girl receiving a school-provided lunch in 1936

Look around you and tell me, what do you see

Can you tell the difference, who among you lives in poverty?

It's not always so easy to tell

Some can hide it so well

And why wouldn't they want to?

When so many judge you

Imagine if you will. . .

It's a constant struggle

A never-ending juggle

Should the water bill be paid

Or pay the power bill before it's too late

What about all the other things you need

Some things are just a necessity

So here you sit in the dark

It's enough to make anyone lose some heart

When it happens way too often

Careful now, it can be a suffocating coffin

Especially when condemning eyes are upon you

What you wouldn't give to be able to retreat from view

How do you save all of that food?

You can't, so what do you do?

You spend more money you don't have to buy

A cooler and some ice

A little cheap, unhealthy food each day

Because other food doesn't last long that way

If the water goes off too

There's no telling what you'll do

It's hard enough to clean without electricity

Oh, my, this is so embarrassing

Some will help simply because they care

Others will help because they've been there

Still others will help in order to fulfill an ulterior motive

You will hear about their good deeds through all that they boasted

But even those with the sincerest of hearts

Eventually grow tired like their counterparts

If only they understood and truly knew

Just how disgusted with it all you are too

There's got to be some other way

But so far the best seems to be surviving payday to payday

And chasing dreams, well - that requires money too, you find

Oh, but hey, what if they lead you to a better life?

Or maybe they ultimately won't

But they still make you feel more alive and whole

The 2013 Consumer Expenditure Survey Reports Average Household Income was $63,784 (considered middle class)

Average Budget Amount
Percentage of Budget
Social Security/Pension/Personal Investments
Debt or Savings
Health Care
Cash Contributions
Apparel and Services
Personal Care

Poverty Facts and Statistics

  • In 2014, 47 million people lived in poverty in the U.S. That's roughly 15% of all Americans.
  • In 2014, the poverty threshold for a family of five was $28,960. Any family of five with an annual income lower than that was considered to be living in poverty.
  • Poverty is not just an urban problem. There is a 15% poverty rate in metropolitan areas and a 31% poverty rate in areas outside of the metropolitan ones.
  • In 2014, 21% of children lived in poverty. That's 1 in every 5 children.
  • In 2014, The National Low Income Housing Coalition released findings that on average, a person working full time needs to earn almost $19 an hour just to afford a two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30% of his or her total income on rent. Keep in mind that 30% is the amount considered acceptable and anything over that is considered to be financially irresponsible.

Poverty is not equal across demographics:

In 2014, 13% of men lived in poverty

16% of women lived n poverty

6% of married couples lived in poverty

16% of single parent homes with no wife lived in poverty

31% of single parent homes with no husband lived in poverty

29% of disabled individuals lived in poverty

More Things to Consider About Government Assistance

  • Even the amount of money a family has on hand or in the bank is considered when deciding if they are eligible to receive government assistance. If there is a savings account, say of a few thousand, it must be spent before assistance is offered. This vastly hinders the family's ability to get their financial situation straightened out.
  • Most adults are ineligible for Medicaid health coverage because they make too much money within a month's time. In Texas, that amount is $250 per household. See the doctor with that money or pay a bill? Food maybe?
  • In order for a family to receive assistance with childcare expenses, a parent must first have a job. Most jobs expect a person to start right away. A person needing childcare cannot start until childcare has been secured. See the problem? If there is not a friend or family member available to assist with filling in the gap, simply finding work can be problematic, especially since daycares cost almost as much as a person on minimum wage earns.
  • You must be receiving food stamps in order to get help on a regular basis from most food banks. People are not selling food stamps just to rely instead on donations from food banks. They utilize what they have until it runs out and then must turn to the banks.

Now lets break that down further. . .

We can assume that someone living in poverty is not able to make much more than minimum wage. The federal minimum wage amount is $7.25. And most minimum wage jobs will not keep full-time employees (40 hrs a week), which means that if a person earning minimum wage only averages 30 hours per week, the average monthly income is about $870. If two people in the household are working similar jobs, the average monthly income is more like $1740.`

Now, remember the chart above showcasing a sample middle-class budget? It is so very easy to wonder what people do with their money when they cannot afford to keep their most basic bills paid. Before you judge, consider this. Housing typically costs $500 to $800 or more, depending on the area in which a person in poverty lives and how many bedrooms it has. Also, this housing does not usually come with more than the bare amenities. The homes are often in a poor state of repair, too. Yes, some qualify for government assistance offering substantial discounts on housing, however, there are strict rules and guidelines besides low income that determine eligibility. Certain individuals, such as the elderly or the disabled might be given preference on the waiting list. In the meantime, somehow a person or family must find a place to rent or live with someone else. Again, keep in mind certain factors like rent deposits and utility deposits, all of which require savings that are non-existent.

Let us assume, however, that a family has found housing. After paying $500 a month on rent, that leaves a whopping $1240 for other expenses. Low-income families usually qualify for food stamps. The amount received depends on things like family size and income. Assume this family receives about $600 a month for assistance with food. This means that at least $200 more must be spent on food in order to feed a family of four or five. That lowers the remaining budget to $1040. Do not forget about the utilities. Water, lights, gas, that may not be included in rent (and if it is, the rent is higher). We can estimate about $300 for utility services, depending on the time of year. Remaining income is down to $740. Great! That seems like a decent amount, right? There should be quite a bit of wiggle room in that budget. You cannot possibly imagine why it is so hard for someone living in poverty to get back on their feet once they fall, or heaven forbid, are born into it.

Well, here’s why.

First, do not forget about federal, state, city taxes, if any, that have not been accounted for yet. They come out before the check is even issued, but nonetheless, taxes alone can lower a check as much as $100 or more, depending on how many government entities are charging them. If someone has their wages garnished for any reason (taxes, a past debt, child support, etc), that again lowers the gross income. Oh, and what happens if one or more persons working becomes ill? Remember, living payday to payday on minimum wage does not leave much room in the budget for missing work. Just missing one day of work lowers the budget by at least $36.25, assuming it was only a five hour work day. If it is a full eight hour day lost, the pay is lowered by $58.

Say the income brought home is now lowered to about $640 (without accounting for illness or wage garnishment). If any of those scenarios takes place, the wiggle room is now down to about $540. Now consider whether or not this family has transportation. It too costs money even without payments. After all, a car that is lien free still has to have gas to operate. That could be as much as $100 a month, perhaps more if there are no grocery stores within walking distance. Even public transportation costs money, assuming the area in which this family lives has that available. One cannot always rely on the kindness of others or expect them to find that patience when the situation wears quite thin. People do not like to play taxi driver on a regular basis for someone else. So now this family is possibly down to $440 in pocket money.

Something else you failed to consider, all those other unexpected expenses. Someone needs to see the doctor. No insurance means the emergency room must be utilized, which means an even bigger bill to add to the growing pile of debt. Medication, however, now that expense cannot be shifted to the debt pile. It must be paid up front. We all know that is not cheap. Or perhaps the car breaks down and needs a couple hundred dollar repair. Yes, of all things to break, it had to be some expensive part that cannot wait. Okay, now the remaining balance is $240.

Now let’s look at all the other possible expenses everyone else takes for granted. Did you fail to notice no personal hygiene items have been purchased? Neither have things like household cleaning supplies. If there is no washing machine in the home (remember, only bare amenities), clothes must be taken to the laundromat and there goes another $3 per load. A family of five might average at least three loads per week, so there goes another $36. And buying the personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, laundry soap, dish soap, etc.. . .oh my, another $70, at least for the family’s personal care needs. Only $134 left. Whew! This family just barely made it!

Oh, but not so fast. . .

Remember, this family is living paycheck to paycheck. This means that sometimes payday comes after a bill is due and that means that late fees are tacked onto the bill. Because the bill is now higher by $25 to $50, the bill cannot be paid in full without sacrificing another bill. And if something is disconnected for non-payment, reconnect fees are added to the bill as well and it must be paid in full in order to have services restored. It is very easy to judge and tell this family that they should just pay their bills on time and not have the late fees. Then, of course, they would not be in this mess. Rest assured, this family is well aware of that fact. But remember those unexpected expenses that crop up every now and then? It only takes one time for that to happen - ONE time - for the bills to fall behind. Once behind, it’s extremely hard to catch back up again. Guess what, the family is lucky to have a dollar or two left in the pocket at the end of the month.

Things Not Included in the Above Scenario

Utilities such as telephone service (cell or landline), cable television, and internet service were left out of that budget. Consider the way those things are used today. Television service is still a luxury, but cell phones are used to help track 911 calls. Thankfully, most of them allow emergency calls even without actual phone service. Internet is considered a luxury most of the time, but schools are relying on it more and more as an integral part of the education of every child. Children use it for everyday homework assignments (such as math games), to take tests, to research, and to communicate with their teachers. It is frowned upon for parents not be in touch with the teachers, too, or the teachers sometimes assume the parent does not care. If there is no internet available at home, where does the parent find the time to take a child to the library? Not during school or work hours when it is open, that’s for sure.

The law requires car insurance. That cost was not included above The money was not there for it. Or for health insurance. But if a person gets caught driving without insurance, a fine is issued and the car may be towed to impound, where there will be a few to get it back. Also, a person could lose their driver's license. And in addition, some states require vehicle registration, which, you guessed it, requires money just to get tested. If the car cannot pass the first time, it needs to have repairs that might require money. Then a person might have to pay again for another inspection

Also not included in the above scenario are the little everyday items that most people take for granted - shoes, clothing, school necessities. Have an infant? Diapers are expensive and cost at least $100 a month. Field trips at school require money. School supplies cost money. There are so many little run-of-the-mill things that most people do not even consider when wondering where someone else’s money goes.

These people often not only live in run-down homes but also have to rely on old and used furniture that is either donated or purchased at garage sales and other places. Sometimes rent-to-own is an option, but again, that is more money out of the budget. Can you imagine only one bed for the entire family? Not even a bed, perhaps, but just a mattress? I can.

Can you understand why some of these people sell their food stamps? I can. I am not saying it is right or that I agree with it, but I am saying that I understand. Some things just require cash to purchase. To some, that seems like the only way to get the cash. Wrong or right, it is not necessarily going for the purchase of drugs, alcohol, or other sources of recreation, as so many readily assume.


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    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 13 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      Great poem and right on target! One thing that upsets me is this: Supposedly we are the richest nation in the universe and still have a shameful number of homeless and poor folks living on the streets and in their cars.

      This is a hub with a message! Everyone should take a minute and read it. I'll do my part by sharing with my hub page followers, twitter, and other media.

      Thank you...oh, and I really like your image on "before you judge someone on food stamps."

      Blessings to you,


    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Hi Audrey,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing. I think it's a message many need to hear.

      Homeless are not just on the streets or in their cars. Families living in motels are also legally considered homeless. How many children fall under that category in the school systems? More than you think.

      I'm a cashier and that image strikes a chord with me. I witness that judgement often. We are working with the local food banks right now I ask people if they'd like to donate to fight hunger as they check out. Many are glad to help, but there are also quite a few who make jokes about fighting their own hunger. Worse, people who complain that they would not help donate to people on food stamps because they just sell them off and then have to rely on the food banks to support them. It's not like that though. It is so much more complicated than people just blowing their money and expecting others to support them.

      Why do I have to watch some people ashamed to use their food stamp card? Because they have never had to use it before and they know the stigma attached to it. There should be no reason for shame. Many people do not stay on them longer than six months to a year. And those that do are struggling with similar situations to the scenario I described above. It's a cycle that most would love to escape but cannot figure out how to.

      If these people are complacent, it is because they are just doing their best to feel normal, happy, and well adjusted.

    • Harishprasad profile image

      Harish Mamgain 13 months ago from India

      Shanmarie, what a vivid portryal of travails of poor people in this very sensitive poem ! And the accompanying stuff is something to be pondered by each right thinking guy. The face of poverty is more scary in some parts of the world. My friend, with this content, you have rattled the hearts of guys !

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 13 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      A true and lively presentation of the plight of poor in your poem supported by realistic statistics and distribution of expenditure. Not only in the US, it is the same condition of people all over the world. Unless the governments do something in order to ensure an even distribution of income among all classes of people, you can't eradicate poverty.

      Thanks for raising this issue. Sharing it on G+ and twitter.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 13 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Shanmarie, this is one of the best hubs I have read in a long time. Believe me, I have been there and experienced all these things. Everyone needs to read this important message. the poem was great, and the breakdown of what a poor family goes through and has to cope with financially is spot on. Thank you for sharing.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 13 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Shan.....Love this, Shan! For the record, the very loud & clear message here is that with sacrifice & creativity, we can practically transform the "appearance" of our unfortunate situation. And why wouldn't we? It's up to us to get through the rough spots as well as possible with our heads high!

      This has a healthy element of truth & common sense! Well done.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Thank you, Harishprasad. I hope everyone does ponder it. There's is enough ignorance in the world. Yes, poverty is much scarier in other parts of the world. It's not something to take lightly in any country.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Hello, Venkatachari. Even distribution encroaches on democracy perhaps, but you are probably right.

      I wanted to show the distribution. People are too caught up in their own ignorance to think it through for themselves. Glad you found it useful.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Hi Jodah,

      I am truly sorry to hear that you have been through that. It's not easy, especially if it is prolonged. But I am glad you like the message.

      It's not a political thing, yet people turn it into one. If people don't disprove stereotypical views. . .just grrr. The poor and those assisting are not free loaders who want it all handed to them. They do not think the world owes them

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 13 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wonderful poem on a horrendous subject. Being so poor is just hard to even understand. What agony on a daily basis. Thank you for the great reminder.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Exactly, Paula! That common sense should be used by those on the outside, too! I didn't even get started on the homeless issue of camps under bridges. Did you know that they are closing "tent city" in Dallas? Sure, they have case workers trying to help, but many of these people don't have an ID and can't easily get one. You have to prove your identity to get one and how do you do that when you have to have an ID to get a birth certificate or social security card? You need an ID to get a job and housing. It is so much more complicated than people think. So they are vacating the couple hundred people from the area and fencing it off. What does that prove? Not a damn thing, except more ignorance.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Eric, I was in college when I first really began to understand. No one really imagines living like that. But I had an amazing professor who grew up in poverty. She knew. And she knew how to teach us education students to be sensitive to the issues so that if we became teachers we could influence the lives of children for the better. Sadly, though, even many teachers are insensitive, assuming parents just don't give a damn about their children's education.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      The facts of poverty are undeniable and yet many who have ignore those who have not, like poverty is someone else's problem. I actually get quite angry over this can any citizen ignore this problem here in the U.S.?

      Thanks for raising awareness with the facts and a powerful poem.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Get angry, Bill. People should be. Did you see my comment to a Paula about what is happening in Dallas? That makes me angry. Where are these people going? Probably just under another bridge. And if they manage to help some get an ID, where do they go and just how temporary is the assistance? It takes time to get started again, especially when the struggle will be like the one described above. But the rest of the world calls them lazy. No wonder they just give up.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 13 months ago from The Caribbean

      You've done a good job of breaking the reasons for the underprivileged situation many people endure. I can relate to the sentiments in your poem. We all need to show genuine interest in the people around us and become sensitive to the real life scenarios. Thanks for dealing with this issue.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Thanks, MsDora. There are, of course, many possible scenarios that can take place. But the fact still remains that we don't know. How can we make such sweeping judgements about people and then complain about most stereotypical views? Fact is, I know more about this issue than I care too.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 12 months ago

      Shannie , I grew up pretty poor in the 50's and 60's in small town America . 9 kids at home and me in the middle , my Father worked construction , my mother part timed where ever she could . I remember some things that are actually shameful to have happened The "lights being tuned off " for unpaid electric bills , no heating oil in December , my father laid off many of those cold , cold winters . I remember 'government surplus food ' when my mother had to go get it at the town building . Boxes of yellow American cheese for sandwich's , canned surplus beef , puffed rice cereals in plastic bags . Not much else at times but beef on biscuits . anyway ,.......Todays poverty is far worse in some ways , mostly because of the stigma's. As usual , I love your writing , I love you consciousness , and hey .....I love you too!.........:-]

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 12 months ago from Texas

      Thanks, Ed. I'm not sure that it's any worse, but the stigma might be. Things like you describe still happen today and I have seen it firsthand. I love you too. I love all my hub friends.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 12 months ago

      Shan . What needs to happen is for more ways to arise for stay at home mom's and or dad's once again . Our family history was one of the era when two incomes were first becoming necessary in the feeding of a family . When I see a mom or even a dad choosing lesser income and more family quality over todays formula , I know that family "gets it ". What a great culture we could become again .

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 12 months ago from Texas

      Not quite sure what you mean, Ed. But I am half asleep. I can tell you that lesser income in poverty is not good for the family, but it costs just as much to pay for daycare as it would to work so the check would be for nothing essentially.

      I wish this society was about extended family again and people helping each other. It takes a village to raise a child, they say. That village should be family and close friends.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 12 months ago

      That's right Shan , I mean when I see Mom's beginning to stay home again for the health of family I think it's a good thing . Family health and the nurturing of Moms is essential for the best of children One income should be enough and you are right about extended families.

      However if a woman wants to have a career , that fine with me . Child care , another vehicle , taxes , etc. all adds up negatively .....:-]

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 12 months ago from Texas

      Oh, I see. Yes. I didn't work much until mine were all in school, but I think I would keep it gateway if I had to do it again. I enjoyed the very young age and being there.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 12 months ago from Florida

      Great way to raise awareness of the poverty issue, Shanmarie. You spelled it out perfectly. Good for you! :)

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 12 months ago from Texas

      Thank you, Missy. I hope awareness is raised, but more than that, I hope people change their stereotypical perspective. Like Ed said, there's a stigma that should not be there.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 12 months ago from southern USA

      Dear Shan,

      Your poem is powerful and your message strong and important. I remember having our fair share of troubled times growing up during the time my dad was suffering with PTSD, and so I can certainly relate.

      No child should ever go hungry ever!

      I'm glad you pointed out the stigma that many seem to attach to those who are struggling, when they are working more than one job and not just lying about the house doing nothing.

      Inflation is sky high and it is a shame that many have to choose between food and medication at times, when it does not have to be.

      Thank you for this eye-opener of a piece here.

      Peace and blessings always

      Sharing everywhere

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 12 months ago from Texas

      Hi Beautiful Faith,

      I am so sorry your dad.had to go through that. How difficult that must have been for you all, especially him.

      No, children should most definitely not suffer. It's bad enough when adults do, but I have seen firsthand when children have nowhere to go. It's heartbreaking and that family as.ultimately torn apart because their.daddy couldn't get the help he needed.

      That stigma is awful, especially since you mention inflation. I didn't even bring that up in the article, but it is not helping, that's for sure. Even raises above minimum wage don't belonged prices.go up too.

      Hugs to you, friend.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 12 months ago from North Texas

      Many handicapped and/or elderly people also live in poverty. In fact it isn't at all unusual for an elderly person depending entirely on Social Security to have to decide whether to pay the electric bill, buy food, or get the prescription meds they need. Out of the three choices they can barely manage only one of them. Glad to see you are shedding some light on poverty. No one in the richest nation on earth should be without basic necessities.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 12 months ago from Texas

      Au fait, every word you say is true and it's a crying shame that people must suffer that way. It's harder and harder for people to save up enough retirement money and social security just isn't enough.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 11 months ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful insight.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 11 months ago from Texas

      Thank you, Larry.

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