September 16th, 2010
10:41 AM ET

A family's first time at the poverty line

"Maria, " who was too embarrassed to give her true name, sits with one of her sons as she finds herself living below the poverty threshold.

The Census Bureau has released its annual poverty report showing more people are living at or below the poverty threshold. This means many are finding themselves there for the first time.

“Maria,” who was too embarrassed to give us her true name or allow us to photograph her face, says she and her husband have had to sell their most cherished possessions.

“We sold our wedding rings, our furniture, everything,” said Maria.

Trying to get help from government agencies is presenting problems too she said because their house, the mortgage for which is more than the its value, is considered an asset. She has two sons, the younger one suffers from Autism. During the interview she begins to break down and her older son, only 12-years-old, has to take on the very adult role as comforter.

CNN’s Jim Roope says it’s one of the hardest interviews he’s had to do. Filled with emotion and sometimes despair, but “Maria” does have hope.

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Filed under: Economy
soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Dan Beach

    Start the draft again it will open up lots of no skill menial labor –fast food's all that is left for our college grads..oh I forgot sales

    September 16, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cat

    We're no longer a society where everybody has a right to work, so to speak. Before, prior to the mega-corporations and rapid population growth, people went to work, earned their living, bought a home, had a few luxuries, and that was that. Now, it's all about profit–which of course is understandable to a degree, since a company cannot survive in the red–and getting ahead by cutting hours, personnel, and relying on machines to get the job done. At the same time, however, we've become a society that expects far too much for nothing. I'm not sure where this all began–and if one caused the other, or if it just happened. But ultimately, we have a segment of the population who expects too much for too little AND a segment of the population who is willing to work hard, but can't survive on such meager wages. I am college educated, but I have a job that a person with a GED could get. I do a well, though, and I'm lucky that I have great benefits, even if my wages are not on par with what I feel they should be. My husband earns roughly the same, and since we don't have children and live in a part of the country with a relatively low cost of living, we do well (for now, at least). Still, there's so much we both take for granted and could do without. We don't spend frivolously, but we do enjoy going to nice dinners, concerts/plays, etc. I can't imagine a family of 4 living on $21,000 a year. Even without paying income tax and having benefits like Medicaid and food stamps, you're left with $5250 a person for an entire year?! What's even more disgusting? The poorest of the poor in the USA are considered rich to those in developing nations. Pure socialism won't work, and having some variance in wealth is necessary and good (the wealthy employ people and contribute more to social programs), but we have to start caring about EVERYBODY's standard of living. I have no clue how to do it, though. The wealthy keep getting wealthier, and the poor keep getting poorer. The middle class–being able to support yourself and live comfortably MOST of the time while being able to survive a struggle or two–is disappearing. It's frightening, really.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Outraged

    My sister is trying to raise 2 children on MUCH less then 21K a year and NOT succeeding. She is working but can only make a certain amount as she also receives SS survivor benefits (her husband died several years ago) and there is an income cap. She is in foreclosure and apparently makes too much money to qualify for assistance in keeping the house but makes too much to qualify for food stamps. Something is very WRONG in this country when certain groups are penalized and others are just handed things.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chris

    Poverty?? Half the world lives on under $2.50 a day... that adds up to less than 1k a year.... Now thats poverty...

    September 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hubby Drives A Jag

    Maybe it was my husband in front of you paying with food stamps and driving the Jag. Did the concerned citizen ask the man why he was paying with FS? We have 4 foster children (a sibling group) in addition to our 4 children. The state gives us a stipend for the children, medical care and yes FS. Why do we use the FS if we can afford lux vehicles? We pay for all 8, yes 8 of our our "kids" to go to the same private school, we buy the same quality clothing for all of the kids, we treat all of our kids the same unlike some foster parents. "Our" children are not treated "better". My husband was a foster child and never forgot how he was always treated as "less". Do the math. Do you know what 8 teenagers eat" The FS we get doesn't even cover half the food bill. Do not assume because we have a Jag and a Benz that we are somehow "gaming" the system. If we didn't have these kids they would be split up.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim W

      You wouldn't need the FS for the 8 children (your own and foster) if you didn't have the Jag and Benz. I understand getting a stipend from the state to help support the foster children, but you are not part of this debate. If you can afford the Jag and Benz, then what are you complaining about and why using FS? If it cost(s) that much to feed 8 children, then why do you have 8 – I understand splitting the children up, but why am I feeding them?

      September 16, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Danni

    I don't know why she is ashamed. Money isnt everything and really? is that what this world is coming to? She should be thanking GOD that she has a job and things are getting paid. Most people are struggling with making ends meet.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kraznodar

    If you had a meal in the last 3 days and slept in anything better than a cardboard box you are not poor.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • chri2079

      your an idiot

      September 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • BC

      Yup. Not poor but dead (those of us who are not 100% healthy and strong and require more than 1 meal in 3 days to survive, and not because we are greedy or can't handle the sensations that an empty belly comes with.).

      September 16, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tirebiter

    I think the point of the article is the increasing number of people below the poverty line. Call the monetary amount arbitrary, insanely low or insanely high but the fact is the number of people below it is increasing and has been since 2000.

    I think it is apparent that the Republican policies have benefitted the rich and hurt the entire working class, mainly the working poor. I don't see many, if any BMW's or other luxury cars at unemployment or WALMART but I certainly see them at the country clubs and upscale malls. I don't deny anyone's right to enjoy there earned wealth. I am sorely disappointed by the lack of charity and understanding about the hard times some good, honest , hardworking people are having getting by.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • rabidantirepublican

      Is that "George LeRoy Tirebiter"?

      September 16, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Matt

    Always told myself, if I ever found myself on the streets, I'd head for the hills. Why beg for food, shelter, etc when you can live in the wild? Build your own shelter, hunt your own food, just as our ancestors did. I feel like people who resign themselves to be drunken bums have simply given up. Doesnt have to be that way. On Federal/public land, you can live there without the indignation of being labeled a 'bum'. Being homeless does not have to mean being helpless... its a sign that capitalism is not good for us.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • rabidantirepublican

      Yeah, that would work really well for these folks, what with kids with autism and all. STFU.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. keith

    And their is still a debate about illegal immigration?

    September 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gulfresident

    We have two little kids in our family of four. We lived on a comfortable income of 40000 $ until we both lost our jobs. It took over a year for one of us to get a job that pays much less. We have worked hard all out lives – my husband has over 15 years management experience and I have a master. It is frustrating, sad, humiliating to have no job. It nags at your self confidence. Its boring never to be able to do anything, like enroll the kids in soccer games or gym-classes, let alone go out to a dinner with friends. We have no cell phone, cable, computer games and keep our AC at 80. It makes you angry never to get answers for the well tailored resumes you send out daily. You want the best for your children – to see them not even getting the basics that we grew up with hurts the most. Now my husband works again but the fear will stay – "what if this happens again"???

    September 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. alex

    lesson learnt: next time never get a debt no matter what. Just spend what you have and not a penny more. If you want to buy a car, save for it... one you have $14000 buy it in cash. Same thing goes for home.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jarrett622

    I cannot believe some of the ignorance about what people get on welfare or foodstamps or other programs. Foodstamps are meant to supplement your food budget..not become the entire budget. Free rent? Gee, in my area in Virginia S. 8 housing has a years long waiting list. If you can find a decent place to rent for under 900.00 a month that's doing something major. And let's not forget the raise in electric rates people in my area have suffered at the hands of AEP. Food costs keep rising, pay isn't keeping pace. Oh and if you live in a kind of area as I do...there is no public transport. You have to have a car.

    Living well on these programs?? Holy crap...someone is delusional. If you've never attempted to live within these programs then you have no clue what you're talking about. Oh, and to the person who thinks that they don't ask about barter or other non-cash payments you're wrong. Now if someone is dealing drugs on the side...all bets are off. Sigh.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chri2079

    21K was fine when i was in my early 20s but I couldnt imagine supporting a family with that.. 21k is poor but its better than nothing.. guess im just spoiled!

    September 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. samantha

    So Maria the illegal doesn't want to show her face to ICE? Poverty has been around for a long time, if we deported all the free loading illegals we have jobs and are system would not be broke from supporting them. Vote out reid and pelosi then impeach obama.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      I hope Mr. Obama manages to make real progress on his plans for our education system, if only so we can finally do something constructive about the profound level of ignorance that inspires comments like yours.

      Seriously. Get a clue.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      Easy "Turbo' we all know your a hater and if illegals are threating your job well what does the say about you

      September 16, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
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