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. Reality Hater

    For all of you Republican economic geniuses out there $21000 per year is $403.84 a week pre tax if you add 22% in taxes thats $315.00 a week or $16380.00 a year. Leaving the family with $1260.00 a month, after you pay any kind of rent ...what is really left for a family of 4 to live on?
    In the United States today a family of four would be hard pressed to live on $35000.00 pre tax
    .I will save you the math , its just about $550.00 a week. When you have Corporate executives and government officials that earn 6 figure incomes and stock options that put them well over 1 million plus a year, the little guy's financial problems become less as less apparent or concerning to them, the term WORKING POOR ring a bell for anyone...anyone... that demographic will continue to increase as we ship good paying jobs overseas to "third world countries" to support their economies. Why cant we staff a call center in rural Tennessee, Kentucky or Louisiana instead of Mumbai, India ?
    I'll tell you why GREED and the drive to make wall street happy instead of taking care of the US citizen , they are bending them over a barrel...so to speak. WAKE UP AMERICA the majority of our children will inherit a THIRD WORLD AMERICA , the other 2% will continue on the path of the rich exploiting other Americans for their own financial gain. Until that simple fact is realized we will continue to have Americans suffer with below poverty level wages,while the top 2% reap in excess. How much is too much ? I would love to see the committee that ruled on the $21000 poverty line try to live on it for a year themselves and then report back on the lavishness of what $21000 can do for your family.

    September 17, 2010 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. Orlando

    While I'm sure it's difficult for them to give up many of the creature comforts that they are used to, $21K per year is not poor by global standards. The UN defines poor as living on less than $1.25 per day (roughly $500 per year). Americans are wealthy – but not all of us have all of the luxuries that we want but don't necessarily need. Less than 2% of Americans live by those standards. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Percentage_population_living_on_less_than_$1.25_per_day_2009.svg

    And while this family probably doesn't want to give up their house, they are probably paying a high mortgage (assuming they are paying it at all), there are other avenues for them. While not always the best option, they could file for bankruptcy and give up the house in the bankruptcy. If they can't get government subsidies to help them because the house is considered an asset – even though they're upside down – bankruptcy would get rid of that asset.

    If they are desperate enough to sell wedding rings, furniture and other belongings, is seems to me that they have options available that they just haven't explored.

    September 17, 2010 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Reality Hater

      Really....Global Standards... You are going to put up stats on Global Standards that reflect on slave wages paid by Wall-mart and the Gap to manufacture clothing they don't live in Niger, this is AMERICA. You my friend are part of whats wrong here,an affiliate of the not my problem posse.

      September 17, 2010 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tami

    I see several of you have forgotten they have a child with Autism. Which means moving is a last resort. Change for autistic children is traumatic and can cause weeks of explosive outburst depression and in general extreme stress for everyone in the family. For a family already under stress this could be the breaking point. Oh and don't forget that some autistic's have very high energy levels and not having a safe fenced yard can be a real danger. So before you sit and judge, consider all the implications of this families situation. Been here done this and my apartment is torture for my autistic son and we now are all experiencing medical problems related to stress.

    September 17, 2010 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ali999

    And of course, "Maria" has a foreign accent, probably Hispanic. The commentator would do well to point out that a major contributing factor to poverty in the U.S. is IMMIGRATION. We are in an era of record high immigration, legal and illegal, much of it unskilled uneducated workers and their families from the Third World and we’re surprised that when the economy in general turns bad, we have a record number of people living in poverty, especially Blacks and Hispanics?! Pull the other one. Even the addition of LEGAL immigrants through "guest worker" programs such as H1-B has succeeded in driving older American professionals out of jobs and careers.

    Robert Samuelson noted in a Washinton Post column in 2007 that the increase in poverty between 1996 and 2006 was driven by the addition of 3 million Hispanics to the poverty rolls. Not so coincidentally, this addition occurred largely because of the 1986 amnesty as legalized workers became eligible to also sponsor family members. Just how many of those 51 million “Americans” who lack health insurance are really illegal aliens or their U.S.-born children? After all the rate of children living in poverty has also increased, heavily driven by the rising rate of Hispanic children living in poverty. Fact is, the presence of illegal aliens not only deprives Americans and legal immigrants of jobs, but drives down wages for everyone and makes it difficult to negotiate better terms of work with employers. Yet, this administration wants to amnesty the 20 million or so illegal aliens who are here, making it easier for them to deprive Americans of even better jobs and to access more welfare and social programs than they already do. (And yes, illegal aliens do collect welfare, on behalf of their U.S.-born kids.)

    September 17, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Tisilto

      My oh my! One thing you should never forget is that the reason why Hispanics and Blacks are always is worse economic conditions than white people is because of the discrimination white people have historically practiced against these groups. I advise you to read the report about lifetime earnings in the U.S. based on census figures and it will show you how white people are always better paid than other racial groups across ALL occupations. Is it that white people are smarter than other racial groups. I do not think so. It is the systematic discrimination you white people have practiced over centuries what has made this happen. It is not about intelligence, it is about power. Historically, white people have held power in their hands with more powerful weapons than Hispanics and blacks. Therefore, white people have not allowed these two groups to develop at par with them. You can complain whatever you want about Hispanics and Blacks but this problem was, guess what?, caused by white people. So, do not bs anybody trying to say that the Hispanics and blacks are the problem. It is the other way around, white people are the problem! You want change? Make white people be more inclusive and just in their treatment of other ethnic groups. You will see the difference.

      September 17, 2010 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      Reading your comment made me sick. I cannot believe that there are still so many racist people living in our country. This country was born on immigration. Not a single person (minus the few remaining American Indians) can say that they are from this country. Everyone's roots can be traced back to another country. Many of us probably had ancestors who came here illegally. For you to single out people for being Hispanic/Black and saying this is the cause of our finanicial hardships is absurb. Should these people be left unhelped and on the streets to die? What happened to basic humanitariasm? I'm sorry but bigots like yourself is what is wrong with this country.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bubba

    Don't you worry, Barack Obama gonna be taking care of you!!! He pay your gas, he pay your mortgage, you help him he help you!!!

    September 17, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. joe

    Ahhhhhh, Citizens realizing the dreams of the terrorists they elected in Democratic and Republican Parties. Dream on and on and on......

    September 17, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  7. Michael Wong

    To the person who said: "Walk down to the local social services or medicaid facility and see all the BMWs and Mercedes double parked out front", I would like to ask if he has actually done this himself. I go by a welfare office on occasion and I don't see scads of BMWs and Mercedes parked out front. There are a few in the back, which are probably owned by managers and executives inside.

    This sounds like one of those urban myths that persists because nobody cares to confirm it.

    September 17, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. sirock

    Humm is this the change we can believe in? America is on it's way to become a 3rd world nation sounds great bama. Great job. I can see a bunch of know it alls think thats ok so tell me how did they get so stupid to think poverty is a good thing and we should feel bad about being a sucessful country. Social leaches I guess

    September 17, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  9. Sue

    I think the real problem here is over-population.More money should go into providing people with B/C so that they don't end up having children that they can't support. I think that the church is slightly to blame in preaching that B/C is wrong and abstinence is the only way. Also, I don't see anything wrong with assisting people in need, what is wrong is how the programs are run. I think there should be a full sweep of all these systems. For instance , programs like Welfare should be regulated in a way that the govn't pays directly for the needs of people (i.e housing, utlities, food) Checks should not be given to people to spend as they see fit. I've worked in places where the first of every month (when govn't checks come in) a huge crowd of people from the inner city would come in and purchase 100's of dollars in designer items. So essentially, my taxes are buying someone a new pair of Timberland's.

    As far as 21,000 , This is nothing. particuraliy for people who have students loans, car loans, mortgages, etc. 21,000 is like change. With the Govn't taking up to 30% of your income anyway, it barely gives you enough money to eat. 21,000 a year is good for a person in their teens living at home, not for a family or even a single person.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. nanny

    For all the people speaking in generalities: 1) if your house cannot sell for anywhere near the balance on the mortgage, you can't just 'get rid of it". It's a very lengthy process. 2) As a result , the house that this woman can ill afford is preventing her from being eligible for certain services. 3) this poor woman is at a low, low point. How dare these posters place her in the same basket as professional moochers who truly do know and work the system?

    September 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ujenni

    The problem is these "poor" people have a better cell phone than I have in a family of 7 earning 80,000 per year. If they didn't have the best cell phone and a thousand toys in the back yard, I might be sympathetic. Also, many poor people weigh more than I do so I don't think they are in need for more help, maybe a personal trainer. If they ate less food, they might have more money for something else they think they need.

    September 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Maybe you should think about what type of food they can afford to buy. Their monthly food bill isn't in the healthly food section it would be in the cheapest food section which is mostly processed food with high fat content. What about you where do you shop. I am sure it was your choice to have such a large family so i am sure what type of cell phone isn't that important to you!! We all need to stop and think sometimes before we say what we feel. What if you were in their shoes?

      February 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JDMinne

    living at/below poverty level ... brb ... I gots to: put in a dip, light up a smoke (around my kid), turn on the cable tv, crack open a brewsky and text on my smartphone.

    Luxuries vs the necessary ... glad the smokes won.

    September 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Working Mommy

    We had everythigng 4 years ago it was nothing for us to stroke a check for a $500 power bill or $200 for a pair of jeans. Money was no object, sadly saying. we had all our eggs in one basked my husand was the top 5 real estate agent in teh southeast. the market crashed and went from over a million dollars a year to zero overnight. I was pregant with my second child and had a two year old. My husbad was very proud and we had no food no money nothing. I had to set aside my pride for my children. we were on foodstamps and medicade (only for my girls) for 1 year. I vowed to get off them as soon as possible. i was blessed to get a great job making $40k per year. and my husbadn sells cars so we never kno what he is going to make. we live pay check to paychek living only on the neccities.. It is more than diffuclut to rais a family of 4 on $40k daycare, food, gas, utlitiles, nececcisite, give me a break. To CHAD who says he lives off $7,000 a year, do you live with your Mommy? there is no way you an do that in the US unless your on govt assistacne and live at home wher eyou have no responsibilities. Who are any of you to judge, I work my ass off everyday adn I cant even afford a gallon of milk, i dont qualify for foodstamps b/c I work, so the govt is telling me oh you cant feed your kids, quit your job and we'll help you. The system is supposed to work to help people get off their feet not sit around on their asses collecting food stamps.

    September 23, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    21k isnt too low, its too high. I have a family of 4 and we only bring in 11,028 a year, and yes I do work my but off for it.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob Tiberi

    pest control is necessary specially if you have an expensive wooden home and if you are cultivating some plants ,~:

    November 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
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