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. rcpr

    i think we are going to have to get back to the basics. families all living in one house and sharing the load. everyone helping each other and contributing.

    if you are a single mom , then your load will not be easy. you should work on building some kind of support group. dig, dig, and dig. learn who you can trust and who you can't! there are many out here that will take your last dime and dissappear. do not believe everything you read internet. many scammers are preying on the less fortunate and gullible. be aware! be safe!!!!!!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • JaneyZ

      I am currently unemployed and live in an inexpensive apartment complex with my spouse and youngest son. My two sons and grandchild have moved in next door, and I take care of the baby and both apartments while one son goes to work and the other son looks for work. We choose to rent because the cost of taxes, maintenance and insurance on an owned house would be prohibitive, and we ONLY eat at home. No cell phones, no television for sure. No processed or convenience foods, precious little meat. The good news? The family is closer than it's been in a very long time, thanks to long dinnertime conversations...playing cards or board games is fun, no spending money on movies, shopping, amusements. When life hands you lemons...

      September 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Greg

    Bush or Obama...who to blame??? Anyone who pins this recession on one person is indeed naive. You can't blame one person or one party. Stop trying to make this a political debate. This is a pure economic crisis that is due to the FAILURE of all members of government because they ignored the problems, continued to ride the wave of re-election by inflation our national debt and ballooning the housing market out of control so that a hard crash (which we are still in the midst of) was inevitable. Want to point fingers? Start with Barney Frank and the Financial Services committee who kept on telling people to buy homes and kept on saying Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were perfectly fine. Look no further than Fannie and Freddie as to the root cause to all of this. They are the engine that sent this economy down the toilet by creating such a housing bubble that eventually burst and destroyed wealth in this country. That downward wealth spiral then "trickles down" to the masses....Sound familiar?? The only way to get out of this mess is to help spur economic growth, you will NEVER get out of it by the continued taxation of the wealthy. The more you tax them, the less they will invest and the less jobs will be created. The U.S. government can't employ everybody unless you want to become a Socialist or Commnunist state...or maybe that IS what everyone wants...I not so sure anymore.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. larrywi

    Here's a poverty story for ya. I have a 30 yr old son with Down Syndrom who lives with us, and collects $541.00 a month from SSI. He has a full time job, and has since he was 18, he works 5 days of every week, he is paid a minimum wage, and every dime he makes at work is deducted from the $541.00. He earns $6,492 dollars a year, along with being on MediCare. Here's the real kicker, every year I have to report to the state how this money was spent! How much for food, how much for recreation, how much for clothing, how much for rent, and how much saved! You don't want to read my reply back to the state each year!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. Rondo

    Congress is to blame, not the Presidents.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      I disagree. They are both to blame, all the way back to whenever we incurred a national debt. This country should never, ever, run a debt. It should only spend what it brings in, not a penny more. If that means cuts some years, then so be it.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rondo

      The president cannont spend, only congress has the checkbook.

      September 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. PoorMichigander

    I am married with a two year old daughter. My family earns about $18,000 a year. We can't afford many luxuries. We drive a good used car, it took us three years to pay of the couple thousand that it cost. We live in a 450 square foot one bedroom apartment. We do get food stamps and medicaid. Without these two things we would not be able to to survive. We do not have cable TV, we don't rent movies, we don't go to the movies, we can't really afford to eat out, we don't travel to see family over the holidays, we walk most places to avoid buying gas, we keep the apartment in the low 60s during the winter, etc. $21,000 is poor in this country because our cost of living is so much higher than it is in the rest of the world. I would like to earn more money and have gone back to school in an attempt to better my lot. I also have two jobs. One of those jobs is assisting others in getting access to DHS benefits. Fraud does exist, but I hate to break it to you, it just isn't as rampant as many republican reps and senators would have you believe. It's saddening to see so many people talking about welfare recipients so indignantly. There are many of us who are embarrassed and ashamed that we feed on the teat of the government and I partially blame those who talk down about us. I'm sorry we are not as successful as you folks are. Perhaps some of you should look at the benefits and wages you offer your employees. You are partially to blame for the people that you despise.

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

      Please stop whining and whining and whining---

      September 16, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Woody

      Amen to everything you said. But keep hope alive. I have been there and done that and by doing exactly what you are doing was (eventually) able to get out of that situation. The biggest problem is that the uneducated wingers (as well as the greedy fascists) keep trying like hell to send us back to that situation because they think that helping rich people will some how help them. Boy are they in for a shock.

      September 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jim

    How much a part of the banks default plan was repossessions? We all know that the banks were giving away mortgages to anyone so to bundle them and sell them on the default derivative market (a bet on whether or not someone will default or not). We also know that the majority of what you pay over the first several years is a down payment and then almost all interest. We also know that congress initiated this whole scam intentionally for the banks by reversing the Glass-Steagal Act in 1998 and then having the Fed reduce interest rates so to inflate housing prices and encourage people to buy houses. The intentional increase in interest rates by the Fed in 2006 was meant to slow the housing market.The intentional collapse of Lehman Brothers is what froze all credit in the western world and initiated the employment collapse. The drop in income and amount of money available created a depression which made it difficult to get money, especially now that the unemployed and under employed didn't have it. This starts a market free fall on houses as foreclosure after foreclosure drive housing prices underwater so that people can't liquidate their homes. Leaving the banks to come back in and scoop them up for nothing (literally), getting the house, the down payment, all mortgage payments over the loan period, plus any money made on the default derivative, and then whatever they get for auctioning off the house. Plus they also have tax incentives on foreclosed homes). And they cashed in on this 95,364 times last month alone (2.4 million times in the last 2 1/2 years).

    People your government helped the banks screw over 1% of the population, in this blatantly obvious scam, they allowed and took part of. They also created this high level of unemployment to make the money dry up so people would foreclose.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. catherine

    I too sold everything I had in NJ after I was layed off. I packed just essentials in my car and headed west and found a job in Colorado. I am starting over here in the west. I suggest to everyone if you can't find a job in your state, it's a big country out there.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • tim

      Yabbut you had to leave Jersey for Colorado! What a shame. 😉

      (I'm kidding – I grew up in Jersey...)

      September 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steveb

    Just like the poor will always be with us; so will the nasty, judgemental, hate filled people commenting on this story. Of the two, the world would be a much better place if got rid of the second group. It is you and not the poor who negatively effect humanity.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Why don't you just go away--–you sound very much like an elitist liberal--

      September 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Meagan

    Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. ThatGirl

    Then too top it all off.....Is this family even a legal American family? The ladies english was very broken.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • JT

      Will she be stupid enough to be in CNN if she's not?? Use your brain...

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

      Yes, because if she doesn't talk exactly like your average white soccer mom, she must be here illegally.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Rate


      As though legal immigrants always speak perfect English... Really? Please, please let it be that you are just shooting flames and not that you are genuinely that ignorant. Geez...

      September 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rate


      "The ladies english.."

      So judging by your English, I would have to assume you are an illegal. Leave my country. Now.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sam

    $21,000 a year is not a lot of money when you're responsible for providing just the essentials for a family. I can't believe there are people posting such negative feedback. Even a not so adequate 1 bedroom apartment in Raleigh is $600.00 a month ($7,200/yr). When you factor in food, utilities and insurance, $21,000 (which at this income level isn't even affordable) is eaten up pretty quickly when your family is healthy..... If you're fortunate enough to have transportation, there's gas and insurance, etc. Some people can be so cold and self centered.....they have it's an all about me mentality and could care less that there are millions of people suffering.....

    September 16, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. Damien

    A lot has to do with standard of living to determine the difference between being impoverished as apposed to the feeling of being impoverished. Psychologically, it is much more difficult for one to adjust to living a less affluant lifestyle after living a prosperous one than the opposite. I speak from experience. Gone from nice home in country in CT to an appartment in FL. Used to have spare cash, down to $100 to last another week and a day until payday with a broken down car, late rent little food in the house and a whopper of a light bill. To some, $21k may sound like a reasonable amount of money, it is not... To some $80k for a family of 4 may seem like a lot of money, it is'nt. $80k for a family of four is by most normal people's estimates a comfortable number. Can put a bit away for emergencies, save for new/used cars as needed. Barely enough to save enough to cover childrens college education though. I will say to those claiming our great nation is sinking you are dead wrong. This nation is the best game in town period! Try to blame Our presidents is like blaming the moon for the sun being too bright. It takes a lot more than one person to create a mess like the one we're in and also will take manny to fix it. Old fixes dont work because as stated somewhere above we are in a wholly new economy, a world economy which never existed before. Take heart fellow Americans, it is always darkest before the dawn and surely a beautiful day will come soon. G d bless America!!!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. Working American

    All the OBAMA lovers out there still want to blame Bush for everything that is wrong with this country. Lets set the record straight. The economy went south when "Wall Street" fell. Bush told everyone that a problem was coming and tried to put regulations into place to stop the meltdown but the Democratic Congress and the Senate in place at the time blocked him. Democrates have controlled Congess since 2006. The last Democrat President, Slick Willy started the whole thing when he went to Wall Street and told them to make it easire for people money to borrow money to buy homes even if they couldn't afford it. These poor people went out and bought homes they couldn't afford. You can't fix stupid . Most of the big problems started under the Democratic contolled Congress, Senate and was made worse when you added a Democrate President.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Bunnie

      Newsflash: Wall Street never fell. They got a tax and interest free loan, leveraged it to make millions then paid the government back in less than a year. The reason they got where they were was because of risky derivatives and mortgage-backed securities put together and sold by crooked CEOs in the banking and mortgage industry. Obama was still writing a book and doing community organizing when this happened.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • pamela

      Instead of spreading all this hate. Spread love and help people out. Go to a homeless shelter and assist in their homework. Go feed someone at a homeless shelter. Volunteer - give food cans and clothing at church or somewhere. Instead of buying a candy bar, donate that money to a can of food.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Flawed

      You are right about one thing. You can't fix stupid, look in the mirror.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Middleman

    Misplaced society values is largely the cause of the US Economic conditions.
    It is common opinion now that FAME is an alternate path from education and hard work. (See Kate Gosslin, Snookie, Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, etc...)

    People who are entertainment celebs or professional atheletes do not (in general) contribute to the exported US GNP.
    Athletes (in general) do not have to go to Harvard or Yale to land a pro job.
    In fact, some never have to go to college at all.
    This is an obvious inbalance of societal priorties. It leads to more youth leaving the path of education and latching onto the 'fame' retirement plan, one which in reality does NOT help the US economy.

    The people who should be paid the most in society are the ones who use their brains and start businesses which produce products.

    Next Question: How do undo this upside down societal model?

    September 16, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • tim

      "Next Question: How do undo this upside down societal model?"

      Stop pontificating?

      September 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. josephknots

    The economy is recoving for people who are lucky. People in right jobs and position are experiancing an economic growth. People who are unlucking are experiancing recession/depression. Not everyone is lucky. It is like winning a lottery.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
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