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

    Hi Jim:
    Is there a fund setup where people with means could help her and her family? You could be in charge of following up with her to give her the check and do a post and followup. She has to know there are people who care. Thank you.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  2. megamom

    We went on foodstamps for the first time ever after 18 months of unemployment with no benefits and having exhausted out savings. At first I was very embarassed, then I realized in this economy there are lots of first timers. We learned to eat simple but heathy foods, a practice we still use. My husband and I are now both working though for our family of four our salary is around 35,000, we are able to pay our bills, but will be in trouble if anything happens to our car. Our salaries are less than they used to be. It is a different economy and I do not see much hope of it returning.
    I would like to thank everyone who pays taxes for helping us when we needed it and now that we are working again I feel good when I see taxed taken out, I like to imagine that it is helping another family in need. I wish more went to working poor and struggling families and less to bail out banks that have done nothing to help with the foreclosure situation that they helped to create.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      I totally agree with you, and stay strong! You are a good person, and going for help when in need is a very honorable thing 🙂 I pray things continue to look up for you and your family.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • lorin

      When I was a young mom, we got WIC and foodstamps and a medical card. My dad, who made plenty, kept saying, "If I wasn't being taxed to death, I could help you out. If the person in the welfare office gives you any cr**, you tell her I've been supporting her clients for years and years, and it's now your turn." It made it possible for me to go apply–I'd been raised to believe only lazy no-goods got welfare. It kept us afloat and saved my daughter's life (medical condition) until my husband finished school and got a very good job, and we began paying into the system to support others who got into the same mess. Welfare that lets you get back to work is a GOOD idea, and I like to think that all of my tax dollars are going there, and not to Iraq/Afghan, etc.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Cieje Valentine

    So 21k/yr is POVERTY while the average job's yearly salary is dropping to as low as 16k/yr... Goodbye American dream, Hello third-world nightmare.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric Carlson

      You have no idea how good you have it my friend. America is NOWHERE near being a 3rd world country. Maybe if you actually tried living in a 3rd world country or even a developing country you'd be counting your blessings.

      September 17, 2010 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. Patricia

    YES, BLAME THE GOVERNMENT.THEY SIGNED NAfta , THEY SIGNED Crafta , They allowed millions of illegals into this country for the working guy to help support and steal jobs. BOTH PARTIES ARE THE BLAME! BLAME OUR SELF SERVING ROTTEN POLITICANS !

    September 16, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Julio

      Don't blame the elagals, I was elagal in this country for over 10 years nad I work almost every day, when you are elagal you can not get medical benefits, food stamps, or free education you are elgal you don't qualify. If I need it to see a doctor I will pay full price same with medicine, I never sent more thant 100 dollars back to my country there was nothing left. I alway pay rent and utilities same 100's of people I know, they all work hard an takecare of their families and bills. Corporations bring cheap labor from India, Singapure, China etc.. they paythem penies with the promess of a green card they take our jobs I'm a citizen now I'm feel the pain I just make over 90k but I lost my job to a LEGAL emigrant that is making 30K

      September 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    Don't expect any help from your government. They have no knowledge of how ordinary people have to live.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • mrsleo80

      Yes, I have to agree with you there ....remember when Mr. Bush had no idea how much a loaf of bread cost in a supermarket??... He would probably drop dead now if he took that trip again!.... The reality of the country is not the lives of political persons, movie stars, athletes...the reality of this country is people like Maria and the everday American....

      September 16, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. LB Colorado

    My work too, has cut our benefits and pay by 20%, though it is not a fun place to be in, however, I am still grateful to have a job and benefits. Living with no job or benefits, is not a fun road and it is very sad to see good people go through this in their life. God Bless US ALL and hang on to your shirts.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tiffany

    @ My voice You are doing something wrong. I am a single(basically) mother who makes 39,000 a year. For a family of three its a bit of a struggle but we get by. You however are making at least 40,000 more with a slightly larger household. Even if your mortgage is 3 grand a month you should definitely be able to get by. You may need to tighten the belt.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      If she is making $39k a year with a family of 3+, how on earth can she make it with a mortgage of $3K a month? Somewhere that just doesn't add up. That's $36K a year on the house, and you haven't even looked at the income AFTER TAXES! If you "make" 40K a year, you are not bringing home 40K a year....just thought I would point that out....I make $42k, hubby makes roughly $35k (great for our area), we have 2 sons and we are far from wealthy and doing what we like...some weeks we barely get by due to the hike in electric, my company relocating and costing more in fuel, the grocery prices going up. It's a big picture and easy to judge one person....careful there

      September 16, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
    • JM

      @Lisa – You aren't paying attention. Tiffany says that if @MyVoice makes $80k/year and had a $3k/mo mortgage that they should be able to make ends meet.

      She wasn't talking about her own house on her $39k/year income.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John B

    I'm not surprised. We give hundreds of billions of dollars to the poor around the world but when it comes time to help our own the Gov doesn't have a clue. STOP giving out foreign aid until we no long have poverty here.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • LEB

      But if the economic climates of other countries don't improve enough so that they can buy our stuff, how will OUR economy improve? Yes, we have problems here, but we're can't pretend to act like we are a nation apart anymore. The economy is global.

      September 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jw

    We have record poverty, Seniors that can't afford their meds or food, homeless people numbers growing, returning veterans and soldiers families that need more help than they can afford,but, we can send billions to other countries for forgein aid, earth quake relief, flood relief, and not take care of our own people. This is terrible, take care of our own first.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. Hoeta

    Seriously $80K a year and your complaining. I make 75K a year and feel like one the luckiest people on earth. I only have a family of three but still. Seems like you have made some decisions without having your priorities aligned. I would look into that a little.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Bunnie

      Shoot, we wish we still made $80K a year.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • DavidJ

      75K a year would let me live like a king where I live now. 75K a year is barely enought to get by on in Chicago. How much is enough depends a lot on where you are.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jason

    When are we going to realize that the government it's self is costing us alot of money just to sit there and govern it's self. I understand that they do work long and hard hours, but come on this is a civic duty to make our country a better place, besides why do we pay them so much when they line their pockets with so much. Honestly if any corporation including our government is in trouble financially the pay cuts should be across the board starting at the top. Do not forget it is us the peeons that support this country financially. The recession is far from over this is only the tip of the iceburg all those bailouts that propped up the housing market is only prolonging the inevitable and maybe a crash is what this country needs to get away from the over inflated lifestyles requiring multiple incomes in a family to just get by. Our justice system started going down the hole when our stay at home mother's had to go out in the market to get a job.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      Got news for you Jason- the land of stay-at-home-mom's is a myth. Even in the 50s, more than 1/3 of married women had jobs outside the home. Permissive parenting and its extension into the schools ('How dare you punish my Johnny! My Johnny is just misunderstood!') taught a generation that there are no consequences, well, at least not for 'special' people, like people with money, or powerful and connected family members. (Just how long did Paris spend in jail?)

      September 17, 2010 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. evelia vela

    I am a signgle mom for many years and struggled with finances. I never owned a home but never have i struggled so much as i have this year. They cut down half my hours of workand i cant even qualify for foodstamps with the little bit of money i make. And i got to kids that go to school. I dont know whats going on but i leave it in gods hands.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Z

      You chose to be a Single mother!! You picked a useless male sperm donor who didnt want to stick around with you and your child. Why should the taxpayers support your irresponsible decision??? You could have chose to terminate the pregnancy, but you didnt. You could have chosen to get an education, build job skills and have a solid foundation for your child but you didnt. Now you want the taxpayers to help you.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      Right. And you could have chosen to grow a heart.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      Z, what an incredibly nasty thing to say! How do you know she wasn't widowed, or that she went through a nasty divorce and the kids were all she had left? How dare you!

      And however they came about, it is not the child's fault.

      September 17, 2010 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. kells

    Yup, Bush did a great job. He got a 10 trillion dollar surplus and left us 10 trillion in the hole. Now, stupid people are asking, "Why doesn't Obama do something?" Like what, get in his time machine and retrieve the 20 trillion spent by the texas jack-ss? Just like in your personal finances, you can make a bad decision that takes years to fix. Now, imagine somoeone making eight years of bad decisions and figure out how long this will take to fix. But, don't worry teabaggers, you still have your candidates to pretend Bush didn't inherit a huge surplus from the Dems and he didn't run up the debt while giving money by the pallet to the wealthiest few.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • August

      Right On!

      September 16, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Scandal

      100 Trillion, LOL. Clinton ran deficits throught all 8 years of his term, and one can go to the US Treasury Department and looking through the history of the total outstanding debt throught Clintons term. (

      Every year Clinton was in office, the total national debt continued to climb.

      How Clinton managed to claim a surplus was that while the general operating budgets ran deficits but Clinton borrowed from numerous off budget funds to make the on budget fund a surplus.

      For example, in 2000, Clinton claimed a $230B surplus, but Clinton borrowed
      $152.3B from Social Security
      $30.9B from Civil Service Retirement Fund
      $18.5B from Federal Supplementary Medical insurance Trust Fund
      $15.0B from Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund
      $9.0B from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
      $8.2B from Military Retirement Fund
      $3.8B from Transportation Trust Funds
      $1.8B from Employee Life Insurance & Retirement fund
      $7.0B from others

      Total borrowed from off budget funds $246.5B, meaning that his $230B surplus is actually a $16.5B deficit.
      ($246.5B borrowed – $230B claimed surplus = $16.5B actual deficit).

      September 16, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      If the math is to be believed, you are so far off in your numbers, it's inconceivable that anything you say is accurate. When Bush took office the National Debt was $5.7T (that's trillion with a T). When he left office (and Obama took over), it was $9.2 T. So Bush ran up the debt $3.5T over eight years. Not good, but, since then the National Debt has risen to $13.4T. That is a difference of $4.2T in only 21 months; what do you think it will be 6.5 years from now if we continue with the spending as we are doing. I don't believe any administration has spent more money in less time than the current one, and their path forward is to spend more. This isn't a Rep/Dem thing, this is a Government spending thing. We CAN NOT spend our way out of this problem, we must tighten our belts, understand that we may have to do without some things (XBox, Playstation, brand new car, etc.) and live much more frugally.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. August

    This family will be in an even bigger shock of their lives when they end up in one of the HORRIFYING HOMELESS SHELTERS! They will be treated like MAXIMUM SECURITY HARD-CORE PRISON FELONS, watched 24/7 by armed guards where every action/move by their children is analyzed as a possible serious mental illness requiring immediate medication & lock-up!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. Tiffany

    We as Americans need to learn how to tighten our belt. Cable isn't a necessity. No need for both a cell and landline. Walk a little more instead of drive. Go generic if need be when it comes to food. Cut your lights out during the day. Unplug your computer. And if you're doing all that great. And 21,000 for a family of four and horribly low. I can't imagine making 18,000 less with another person living with me. That's practically starving.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
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