What is poverty?
Poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. But poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money.
In fact, poverty has been described in this way:
“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. And when you live one day at a time, it’s nearly impossible to plan for a successful, stable, and fulfilling future.
Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action — for the poor and the wealthy alike — a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”
In addition to a lack of money, poverty is about not being able to participate in recreational activities; not being able to send children on a day trip with their schoolmates or to a birthday party; not being able to pay for medications for an illness.
These are all costs of being poor.
Those people who are barely able to pay for food and shelter simply can’t consider these other expenses and when people are excluded within a society, when they are not well educated and when they have a higher incidence of illness, there are negative consequences for the entire society. We all pay the price for poverty. The increased cost on the health system, the justice system and other systems that provide supports to those living in poverty has an impact on our economy.
While much progress has been made in the war on poverty, our work on behalf of our clients – assisting them in connecting resources and tools, and in ultimately, achieving self-sufficiency and reaching their goals to our advocacy work, on behalf of those very clients, continues.
There is no one cause of poverty, and the results of it are different in every case. Poverty varies considerably depending on the situation and your location. Feeling poor in Harrisburg is different from living in poverty in rural Perry County, or Northern Dauphin County. The differences between rich and poor within the borders of a county can also be great. And at times, feel insurmountable.
Despite the many definitions, one thing is certain; poverty is a complex societal issue. No matter how poverty is defined, it can be agreed that it is an issue that requires everyone’s attention. It helps all of us to help one another .
How is Poverty Measured?
The U.S. Census Bureau determines poverty status by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, and adjusted for family size, composition, and age of householder. “Family” is defined by the official poverty measure as persons living together who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption. Thresholds do not vary geographically. The Census Bureau has created an infographic to explain “How Census Measures Poverty.”
The poverty threshold serves different purposes, including tracking poverty over time, comparing poverty across different demographic groups, and as the starting point for determining eligibility for a range of federal assistance programs. In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, the poverty threshold for a family of four was $24,257. The official national poverty rate was 13.5 percent. There were 43.1 million people in poverty in the United States.
In 1959, when the official government poverty series began, poverty was at 22 percent. Before that time, unofficial estimates by researchers found a poverty rate in 1914 of 66 percent; 78 percent in 1932; 32 percent in 1947; and 24 percent in 1958. Especially notable trends are the consistent increase in child poverty, the dramatic decrease in elder poverty, and poverty rates among African Americans and persons of Hispanic heritage that are two and a half to three times higher than whites’ poverty rates.
Today, in 2018, the most recent Federal Poverty Income Guidelines have been released and a family of four with an annual income of just $25,100 would be considered 100% in poverty.
What does Poverty look like?
Stereotypes, generalizations, and expectations play a tremendous role when we consider poverty; from what those impacted “should” look like, what they “should” purchase for food / goods, to what they “should” do as a vocation or career path. But the truth of the matter is this: Poverty is not black and white and it’s never that easy.
A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reinforced what we already know at Tri County Community Action, of those receiving assistance through subsidies, SNAP benefits (food stamps), and Medicaid – on average, more than 60% are employed or have at least one full time income earner in the home. Their wages are simply not enough to get by.
Your neighbor, your coworker, your child’s classmate could be impacted by or even living in, poverty. And you might never know it. What can start as an illness, a few days lost from work, or even something catastrophic such as a major illness or emergency, can set off a tailspin from which, recovery can be near impossible.
Who is in Poverty?
If in 2018, 100% of the Federal Income Guidelines placed you and your family of 4 in poverty, that’s an income of just $25,100 a year and if you’re paid biweekly, that’s approximately $950 before taxes, and about $725 or so after. $725 biweekly times two is just $1,450 to live on and support your family of 4 = that goes to rent, utilities, food and if you’re lucky enough that you can stretch it that far, not much room for car payments, insurance, and certainly not any emergencies.
Throughout our region and our service area of Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry County, there are over 60,000 people who meet that very definition and for whom, this is a reality every day.
Poverty in our area, by the numbers:
Cumberland County – 8.6% – over 8,000 households are by definition, in poverty
Dauphin County – 13.63% and of of those, 12,146 are children under the age of 18
And no one is immune from poverty’s reach, in our most rural of areas, Perry County, 9.6% is the poverty rate and of those, 3,919 children are by the very definition, in impoverished households. That is 14.5% of all children in Perry County who are facing economic hardships, food insecurity, unstable housing, and worse, through no fault of their own.