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. alex

    another lesson learnt: don't get any children. This world sucks.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kim W

    There are jobs out there. Now, are there 80K per year, all benefits jobs – perhaps no, but there are jobs. The problem in America today is people want to "wait" for the right job with the right pay and the right benefits. Hell, if you can't afford to pay your house note and put food on the table, then to hell with the "right job", its now time for "any job." I am retired military and when things started costing more, guess what I did – went and got a job at Chili's and a second job at El Chico's. Did what it took, didn't ask and take government handouts and cut down on expenses (cable went, second car went, eating out went, etc.). If these people sell that TV in the picture, they can at least get $50 at a pawn shop and feed themselves for a few days...sacrifice, choices – it's what determines our present and future – start making the right ones.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cynical

    I was furloughed for a year, lost 18 hours a month. I am grateful that I was able to maintain but infuriated to see how many people had to struggle. And as the banks cried and received their help, countless americans watched their dreams become ripped ferom under them. The funny thing is, i didn't hear any politician from city level up to the president talk about sacraficing thier own salaries. The country is broke yet politicians vote for their own pay raises despite the economnic woes. Pay raises should be voted on by the actual people of america. Maybe then political. Self serving agendas will finally fade and politicians will serve their counrty as intended.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I agree, there should be a death penalty for people who are negligent with tax payer money.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chisel

    You people make me sick and are complete idiots if you blame President Bush for this. The Dems were in control the last years he was in office and a president simply doesnt have the power to make changes unless the Senate endorses. Obama and the rest of the self-serving politicans dem or Rep are ruining this country. Once we consumed moer then we make we were doomed. all those little 20 and 30 somethings who place more importance on some entertainer and act like them are fools. I know alot of twits who purposely act like little spoiled idiots because they think its cool. Moving to another country next month for good. I just retired and make 9700 a month. I can live like a king in Thiland or many other places. My total expenditures including a 4600 square foot house, made and chef costs me less then 1100 a month.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Wyo-strong

    My fiancee (at the time) and I lived VERY poor our last years of college and first years out. I mean like $15 for a week of food in a $180/month trailer on the "bad side" with 15 year old cars in a town with no public transportation. I delivered pizzas part time and did side jobs, she worked fast food. One year together we made less than 10K total. A fishing license went a long way to putting more food on the table.

    We made it through, moved to a town with better employment opportunities, started at the bottom of a couple of companies, bought an inexpensive trailer...and made it through, working hard and moving up.

    Now married for 20 years have a nice house, almost paid for (less than 5 years remaining), newer cars etc. All this while raising a son as well. Because we just kept going. We did not buy what we could not afford. Dont smoke, rarely drink, occasional nights out to the second run theater, or maybe dinner out once a month. We saved and scrimped if we wanted a big ticket item. We did not use credit cards for anything we could not pay off immediately. We looked for deals where we could. Vacations were spent camping. We kept our payments low enough that if one of us lost our job, we could still make bills. We put what we can in savings in case of an emergency, and DON'T touch it unless there is one.

    But the big thing was that we kept going, kept moving up slowly. We never thought the world owed us anything immediate, just a chance. We have never gotten any type of assistance (or asked for it). We don't blame the government or president for putting us in the situation we were in when we got together. We made changes in location to find jobs, we continued our education part time as we could afford. If people complain there are no jobs where they live...MOVE. If they are posting here, they have internet and can apply for many jobs online.

    Am we where I would like to be to retire eventually? Not yet. But I know that we can make it through tough times because we have. Live within your means, start over if you have to, and keep going.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      ...I like it...my take on it is pretty simple if you don't make more than 21K as a single adult you cant' afford a car so don't public transportation is fine try the dollar menu use public Wi Fi every now and then count the cash in your wallet because you will have some... even city folk can go third world...more out there than you think...get over the status image mentality...I am speaking as a single person I feel for those with families

      September 16, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dan Beach

    For $50,000.00 a year you can be a prison inmate or guard which ever comes first...

    September 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jayla

    Just to see what would happen, I went down to the welfare office when I became the single unemployed mother of one child back in 1993. I was immediately offered $241 a month in food stamps, $240 a month in AFDC, free medical care for my child, a pell grant to go back to school and $ to pay for the transportation back and forth, free child care, and free rent in a subsizided housing unit where I received $25 per month just for living there. Because I also worked about ten hours per week at as a student worker at my college, I was able to file a tax return and recieved earned income credit and some other kind of child credit and recieved a refund of about $3,500 per year. Let me tell you we lived high on the hog, even though we lived in "poverty level" status. After I got an eduction and had to start working for everything our standard of living dropped considerably. Stupid me, If I'd have gotten smart instead of getting an education, I'd still be living rich at the taxpayer's expense!

    September 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      Sure you did...

      September 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mgc6288

    If you can't afford the house then sell it. Only a material item.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • rabidantirepublican

      Many of these peoples houses are worth less than what is owed on the mortgage.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kurt Parkins

      There are many homes for sale in my neighborhood. Problem is there are very few buyers.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Haissam Barakat

    I would like to offer Maria a job.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. r.ortiz

    21,000.00 is more than i make yearly, i live in florida which is not a work friendly state i am living paycheck to paycheck and tried to apply for food stamps but was turned down because i had not reported income for the last, few months how can you report any income if your hours have been drastically reduced. i am presently working a parttime job in the morning, and when ever my other company has work then i have a couple of dollars more. in a word only the super rich are well off, and the crooked politians get ahead. money has a strange way of going to the people who dont neeed it.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      May be you can find the "High on the Hog" welfare state on of the posters mentioned...but really the very best of luck to you

      September 16, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jim

    I think the overall consensus is that we are all taxed way to much. Since democrats raise taxes, one can deduce that... If you get rid of all democrats, you can get ride of all taxes, which means you can get ride of all your problems.. Including illegal immigrants, drug dealers, sub prime home owners, etc.....

    September 16, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      You're joking, right?

      September 16, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dan Beach

    To those who think welfare and food stamps is living "High on the Hog"...I have to laugh and don't have to wonder about the standard of living you are accustomed to...

    September 16, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan Beach

    Some haters have injected the illegal immigrant argument in this thread...if you have a grown up job it is not the illegals who are a threat it is corporate outsourcing to foreigners

    September 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jadesscorpion

    To those who say that 21k is not poverty: it is poverty just a lesser degree of it. Sociologists call those who make less than 40K or who live paycheck to paycheck are called "the working poor". Yes they still have income coming in but they still are not eligible for food stamps or housing assistance or any type of other governmental assistance. Can you tell me how a college student working a part-time job making $7 an hr still be denied food stamps and housing assistance? You can't but I can: the wel-fare system was first designed to as a stepping stone to help those until they were able to help themselves. Unfortunately, people have learned to cheat the system which called for higher requirements. It's now reached the point to where you're in so deep that you can never get ahead (4 children with a 20K or less job, most of which households are headed by single mothers). 21k a year isn't enough for one person with a kid (no matter the age). Hell it's barely enough for one person to live on in a decent apartment when you have to pay for utilities, food, gas, car note and insurance (if you have that), cell/telephone ( you have to have communication with the outside world) and nowadays, that's just the basics. The economic gap is wider than it was 5, 10, and 15 years ago and to the idiot(s) who saythat Obama did this, he inherited this mess. Go back and check your facts. It was Bush who signed the bill for the bailout and the stimulus. No one said anything when people were cashing those $600-plus stimulus checks, huh? You think you can do better? Run for office. Stop crying and pointing the finger. Write to your senators and congressmen with your solutions. If not. let silence be your virtue.

    September 16, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CenterOfLeft

    "if you have a grown up job it is not the illegals who are a threat"

    Odd way of phrasing that ("grown up job").

    I disagree. Illegal immigration might not be a threat to your job (if it's white-collar, etc.) but it can certainly otherwise represent a threat to your standard of living.

    My (liberal) area has become a poverty magnet fueled in part from neighboring jurisdictions passing legislation that's unfriendly to illegal aliens. Poor illegal immigrants (including quite a few Central American gang members) flooded into my neighborhood and there's been middle-class flight ever since because of sudden upticks in home/school overcrowding (incl. illegal apartments), violent crime, noise, littering/pollution, public drunkenness, deforestation of lots, etc.

    September 16, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
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