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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Post by:
Filed under: Economy
soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Diann Galves

    I feel sorry for all the people who rely on WORDLY things to survive, instead of worrying about MONEY, We should all be worrying about what is gonna happen when the world comes to a end, What if 2012 happens for real, Are all of you prepared for the worst? Money is not gonna matter! THE FIRST WILL BE LAST AND THE LAST WILL BE FIRST!
    Do you really think God cares about how much you make a year, what kind of Beamer your driving this year, and how much your Coach bag is worth..........Please, we will all be at a poverty level, be thankful you are breathing and if we help other countries so be it, thats what God wants us to do, HELP OTHER PEOPLE. People are so into themselves Oh lets not help no one else just us here in the US.........How sad all of you think!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scott

    What this family needs are some targeted tax breaks to their local business community. Also they need to tell their leaders in Washington to cut spending on social welfare. That ought-a fix it!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. JT

    $21k?? Is that BEFORE or AFTER tax?? Huge difference...

    September 16, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • mrsleo80

      nothing quoted by the government is ever AFTER- TAX ..... they do not know what that means .... so if its poverty at $21/K....means you are trying to survive on about $15/K

      September 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. josephknots

    I am seeking Obama's stimulus package working. The resturants on the weekends are busy. Obama is right that the economy is recoving. The media is telling the truth about the economic recovery. Not everyone is recovering. Not everyone can find work. You need to be a lucky one.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. rlw1964

    I am a 45 year old single woman who makes $12.50 an hour and I still live with my 73 year old mother. I consider myself below the poverty level because even though I make about 23,000 a year I cant get food stamps or any other goverment help because I make to much money.Thank God I do not have any kids because I would not want them to live the way that I have to.
    Thank you very much to both of the BUSHES for helping to ruin the economy at least when Clinton was in office we were in the black!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      ***I am a 45 year old single woman who makes $12.50 an hour***

      Anyone who is 45 and making 15.50 an hour is in that position by choice. Go learn some new skills and do something worth more than 12.50 an hour. It's quite simple.

      September 16, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      So are you.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Someone Who Knows

    My husband makes about $48K a year here in Houston. I have been out of work for 7 years, looking ALL the time...even Walmart won't hire me. Our rent is $1100/mo (checked into cheaper rent, but all are in BAD areas of town), electric about $300, car note $350 (older van) truck is paid for, other utilities, RX's and insurance add up to around $600/mo. This does NOT include groceries. We do NOT eat out, do NOT have cable, do NOT have a landline, DO have cheapest cell plan available, DO use antenna for TV (if we watch the depressing junk on there), do NOT make unnecessary trips (saving gas), I buy generic EVERYTHING, don't buy junk food or sodas (would LOVE to have one right about now!), clip coupons, reuse and recycle, planted veggies from free seeds...have sold or pawned everything we can...and still can't make it for family of 4. Don't know what we are supposed to do. I can't see anything else we can cut back on. I refuse to live in a crime-ridden neighborhood to save $200/mo. I WANT a job! Someone hire me, don't care who, just give me a job!

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

      I hear ya...I live about 2hrs north of Houston. Have you tried finding rent houses on the outskirts of Houston? Or even Apartments. 1100 month is not bad I guess if it a 3 bedroom, I am guessing it might be that for 4 person family. Jobs are hard to come by certainly. Have you thought about going to vocational school for a year? You could get financial aid easily. Find something you like. Medical Transcriptionist...work at home and at your own pace. Secretary job...although we are in a bad time right now for employment if you have vocational skills it is much easier. Especially in Houston, it is one of the biggest cities in the Nation. All of this aside I totally agree...48k is a decent salary but now and days it is still struggle salary for a family. I make 32k and I am single and still struggle...and I do not have health care. That is a whole nother subject. I think the price of living is starting to exceed the pay. Something needs to be done about that. Rent is raising but our pays are not. Canada free health care is so awesome!!! I lived there for 7 months and just seeing how people do not have that extra bill is bliss.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rodney

      i'm curious as to why you haven't had a job for 7 years...

      September 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      The criminal probably don' want you in their neighborhood either you have nothing to offer

      September 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Laura, Cleveland

    Obama is the smartest president in this country, at least for 16 years I live here… The problems actually started before Bush when lots of regulations were removed to make the free market even wilder, yes, plus wars. Time should pass to see a real result of any reforms...And I really question the benefits of globalization, which profits some individual, but makes our country wicker (are you seriously believe we can compete with others with the economy based mostly on services?) At least, the President is trying to help ordinary people, who suffered most from this mess.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Lauren

      Finally. Someone who gets it.

      September 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Scrouge

    Family of four
    4 bicycles at yard sale $ 15.
    food home prepared 700.year
    gvmt subs housing 17mo. 204.year
    emergency room 0.
    clothing at yard sale 40.year

    September 16, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Susan Neely

    I am the victim of the Florida real estate debacle twice. In St. Augustine, I had to pay $55,000 to an unscrupulous property appraiser and cohorts in order to sell to a straw buyer for lower value than the fair selling price. I call it the "Great 21 Casanova Land Grab". This outrageous act was perpetrated with the full knowledge of the mayor,county commissioners,Governor Bush and then Attorney General Crist. I bought another house in Keystone Heights for twice
    the actual value and lost $50,000 on that transaction, but that house did allow me to take care of my Mom full time for a year. I moved to PA with what fit in my car and have lived in poverty for the last two years. I'm not stupid..just old.

    September 16, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Scandal

      So who forced you to sell and lose money, then who forced you two buy at an inflated price. Sounds like maybe a lesson in economics is what you need, or maybe a buy/lease website. I have a house that I cannot unload, but in no way am I a victim. I was the one that signed the papers, I read the thick contract. Would I like to be done with that house, hell yes. Am I a victim, hell no. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pen

    The avoided fact that so many people are beyond forced in selling everything they own just to live, something that nobody really is paying much attention to as of yet. Just wait and see what happens on wall street " yeah right "! This is not what is happening in the heartland and has been for the last 24 months. Take if from someone that has already sold everything and now is living in a barn with no water or the luxury of a bathroom. Time to stop talking and get the help to the people that REALLY NEED IT!

    I owned my own construction company for years and when the markets crashed. I lost everything, Just try getting help from any state assistance program when you are a middle aged single male. You give up after a while because all you hear is " You are capable of working" .... " Next Please" All I want to know is where the hell is the WORK supposed to come from when there are no JOBS!

    September 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • sanjosemike

      Pen, I too owned my own business. I did not lose EVERYTHING in the financial collapse because I only paid cash for everything I purchased. If you can't afford to pay cash for it, you can't afford it. sanjosemike

      September 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sanjosemike

    Actually, I do have compassion for this women, who has a developmentally disabled child. That is always a curse. It is just another reason why I'm an atheist. But that's a different subject. The reality is that 21,000 dollars/year for a family of four is poverty. Real poverty. But unfortunately, people don't make good financial decisions at a time when their decisions are most important. We only had one child because we were not sure we could afford two. Later on, we could...but it was too late.

    Being always self employed with my own business, I knew I could only depend upon myself. I had to save, because nobody could do that for me. I could not over-spend...because there would be nobody to bail me out. This may mean NOT buying a home. Look, if you can't afford it...or work in an industry that has flaky job security, you CAN'T afford a home.

    Americans are now learning a new financial reality. They may NOT be able to afford to have a family. They may NOT be able to afford to buy a home or own a car. You have to PLAN for your own security. This means saving for the rainy day. The parties' over folks. sanjosemike

    September 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jessica

    It's hard to believe the comments on this page. I'm a single female with no kids and I earn over $100K so I get no benefits and I pay a lot of taxes-but I can't imagine people who are well-off being so downright nasty about those who need help. Guess what? Unless you're independently wealthy YOU are exactly one medical emergency or one downsizing or one failed business away from THEM. And if you're independently wealthy you have no business snarling about your taxes. I'm sure most people would gladly trade your tax bill and your net worth for their own.

    September 16, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sanjosemike

      Jessica, 100,000 plus/year is an excellent income, but there are thousands of people who are still over-turned because they think it's a million dollars/year. You still need to save and plan for when (not if) you lose that job and are no longer employable at that level. sanjosemike

      September 16, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Madison Momma

    I agree with many of the posts-it is difficult to make ends meet, even with jobs with what seems like good wages, yet alone. And yes-we are probably all tightening our belt. I'm a single Mom to 2 kids and I make well above qualifying for any assistance. (and I'm waiting in que to get child support-I think I'm behind all the ones who get public assistance). It doesn't seem so long ago I was living the American dream-married with two kids, a beautiful home, two decent vehicles, vacations, clothes and good food. But in all reality most of it was financed. At that time we made our payments. But then he left, I lost the house, I got a higher paying job which required me to move and thus my spiral down started and still continues. I have no hope of getting ahead and living the American Dream. I'm now a robot, just getting by. Now we live in a 2 bedroom apartment in a city with a higher cost of living. My brakes on my van are bad and I owe more on it than it's worth as I'd love to get into something cheaper. I do not have access to credit for purchases and my paycheck goes for housing, insurance, an auto, food, medical and past debt payments (it's so fun making payments on the remaining house loan that I no longer live in because we had to sell short as it was in foreclosure and don't get me started on student loans).

    I keep thinking I have a good job and health insurance so I am so much luckier than most but in reality I feel like I've taken giant steps backward in the American Dream. I struggle and I've had to get food from a pantry, not a proud moment but my kids needed eyeglasses and I live paycheck to paycheck. The other day I told my daughter how nice it would be to have a house with our own yard and she asked if that was ever going to happen again. I told her unfortunately no-I do not see myself ever getting ahead of the pile of debt that yes I took out in an easy credit-overvalued housing market, especially with my horrid credit.

    So the future is not bright and I too have sold so many of my things (to get cash and because now that I'm in an apartment I don't have places for them). We are without cable and a home phone. We shop at garage sales for clothes. We grow some of our own food but my question is when will this downward spiral even look up?

    September 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jean S

    I am tired of seeing the current President and previous Presidents being blamed for the state of our financial woes!!!! We the people of this Great Land are to blame!!!

    September 16, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Milhouse

    You know what would really help people like this? First give a big tax cut to the wealthiest Americans, then repeal the new health care law so their autistic child can be denied affordable coverage because of his pre-existing condition. While you're at it, might as well cut corporate taxes too. It costs a lot of money for big companies to finance political campaigns, set up off-shore accounts and ship jobs overseas. That's the plan that will get America going again, you betcha...

    September 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • checi

      It makes you wish you were a multinational corporation doesn't it? You can come in here and do business without obeying any of the laws, strip the country of all public assets, reduce the population to low paying service jobs, let the lack of health care availability keep the employees turning over, and then you can leave a huge environmental mess behind when you've squeezed out every penny of profit.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
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