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. Ishmael

    21K is poverty? Yes, you will have to forgo many of the consumer goods you see on TV every night....but did you know that BILLIONS of people on this planet currently live on less than a DOLLAR a DAY ? And if you are making 21,000 USD a year, you are still currently more wealthy than probably 80% of the people living today....or 99% of all people who have EVER lived?
    And hate to break it to everyone...but get used to it. This "recession" isn't over, by a long shot...and things will get far worse before they get better (which they certainly will, eventually)

    September 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      The weird irony is the people who will fare the best are those who have been at the bottom all along...they know how this game called being poor really works and it is healthy pay back for all those in-debt look at me look down my nose at all of you who don't have what I have people....

      September 16, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Duane W

    Face it we are all heading here. I had it all, great career, large home, two cars, entertainment room. But reality hit, and I lost it all. But you know what, I blame me and no one else. Yes I had to sell it all and start all over but that is what comes of a free economy. We gain, we lose, we live.

    September 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Roisin

    On Aug 6th this year my son, just out of college, knocked on my door at 5 am panting and clutching his side, which was hard as a rock. Off to the hospital, and within less than 2 hours he was having an emergency appendectomy. The cost? $47,634.19 (laparascopic), not including anesthesia. If this had happened on January 1st, my son (or I) would have been responsible for the entire cost, when he drops from my insurance. Forty seven thousand dollars. He was not in the hospital 24 hours. You bet 21m is poor when you are suddenly looking at something like that. And to the gentleman who recommended giving up a/c? That would be death in the south. Homes are not built, public buildings are not built, the way they once were, to be open and airy. The world is hotter now. There are no swimming holes. Please, have some compassion. How many paychecks away from this kind of catastrophe would you be?

    September 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      He is probably already there posting from his bedroom at Moms and Pop's

      September 16, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ced

    Its both Bush and Mmbamas failed policies. The tax cuts should have been pulled when no net gain was show. Mmbama shouldn't have been handing money out everywhere!

    September 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hirouk

    we must take our country back.
    end social security, medicare, medicaid, unemplyment payments, food stamps, welfare, and all the other obama socialistic programs.
    palin/paul '12

    praise jesus!!!

    September 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tracie

      Are you serious. So basically the elderly and lower income will just die off and that would make you happy and feel as the our country is on the right track. Cannot wait till you are 70 and develop cancer so that you lose everything and just die. It is because of people like you that I have gone from loving America to wishing I could leave this country full of people who hate, could care less about their neighbors, and wish that the sick and old would just die.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tracie

      Forgot to add do not what Jesus you are worshiping but apparently I have a different version of the bible. The Jesus in mine taught compassion and caring.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Feuerkelch

      1. You say end social security now, but you won't say that when you start getting checks from it, will you?
      2. People through around "socialism" to scare people. We're SO much less socialist than the European countries whose economies are currently more stable than ours–or at least whose currencies are doing better than ours.
      3. Most countries have programs that help the poor, and if we got rid of those programs you'd be complaining about the elderly, homeless, and sick wandering around everywhere.
      4. Sarah Palin is a dimwit. I sincerely hope she never becomes president. I really hope a woman becomes president some day soon–just not her. I'd also be down with a Jewish/Hispanic/Muslim/Gay/pretty-much-anything-other-than-a-white-male-protestant president. At least we're starting to diversify with Obama! But for diversity's sake, let me just clarify that I'm ok with white-male-protestants, I just think it's about time we let someone else into office.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rae

      And Jesus said.... "It's every man for himself.... good luck"

      September 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • FedUp

      Hirouk...... those "socialist" policies go back to FDR and weren't implemented by Obama – you're the perfect example of the non-thinking, kool-aid drinking, thoughtless T-Baggers (= D-Baggers) that are only rhetoric with nothing to back it up. Whats the real plan on getting this country out of the mess it's in?? Does Palin have one?? I will most certainly want to leave this country forever if Palin is EVER elected to be President or VP...... she's an empty shell (schill) filled with corp. ideals and how to make the rich more $$$$, not to mention being completely devisive for this country...

      September 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      Oh, please, let Palin and (Rand) Paul run in 2012! It's my dearest wish (well, Glenn Beck would be fun too!)....Please, please, PLEASE put Palin on the ballot again!

      Not only would the debates be hilarious, just like last time (both the actual debates and the ones on SNL) but we might actually have a chance for the people with real brains in the current administration to fix this terrible mess before Republicans can get back in office and screw things up all over again.

      September 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Linda

    "Maria" earns a low income probably because she has few skills and little education. Can't say we didn't warn her that she'd be poor if she didn't stay in school. Would it be fair to give people a comfy middle class life if they choose not to work hard for it? Consider that whatever is given to her has to be taken from someone else who earned it.

    Her kids are probably eating free breakfast and lunch at school, then dinner courtesy of food stamps (or whatever they call it now). How did she qualify to get a house?

    September 16, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Feuerkelch

      Hey, remember that time when mortgages were given to people who shouldn't have qualified for them and then the housing bubble burst and then our economy went down the tubes? Yeah, that's probably how she qualified for a house with a mortgage that's now worth more than the house.
      Oh, remember that other time when college was way too expensive for some people? Yeah, that's probably why some people don't have more education. Not because they "choose" not to get educated. Also, the article doesn't mention anything about her knowledge or skill set. Stop being so judgmental, Linda.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • lorien816

      Linda, I'd be interested to know how you "deserved" to be given your good life.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Martin

    "Maria" i s like a lot of people - they can't just pick up and move to somewhere else (and if everyone who was out of work moved to "somewhere else" to lower their cost of living guess what would happen......the cost would rise. "Supply and Demand".)

    My just out of school son is on about $20K a year (and no benefits)(assuming the temporary/contract work lasts a whole year, that is). If he wasn't living at home then he wouldn't be able to afford to live unless he had a subsidized rent apartment in a big city. I can put up with this for the time being because its effectively training - figuring out what he can do – but its not going to work long term because he can't earn his keep. I am, effectively, subsidizing his employer.

    September 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      This is a new phenomenon with kids living at home longer and longer. As long as he doesn't use his money to lease a BMW that looks great parked in your driveway than he's doing OK. BTW kids driving really nice cars living at home with their parents are losers.

      September 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dlea

    Sending billions of US tax $ overseas must cease:

    September 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SamiJ

    If you'd like to help out this family, try doing this: This family is representative of many who are new to living below the poverty line. The other families JUST LIKE THEM live everywhere, including IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. If you'd like to help, then make a donation to your local food bank. Whatever you can do, just do it. Give them $20. Or a gift card to the grocery store. Or buy a case of whatever is on sale this week. Don't put it off, don't wait. And don't talk yourself out of it by thinking "I can't do much, so I won't insult them with what little I can do."

    September 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SamiJ

    Many of the people who are living below the poverty line are children. They didn't choose to be there. And they shouldn't have to worry about eating well. For many, the school lunch is their only healthy meal.

    September 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sam

    A lot of the newly poor have high mortgage payments – that were easily affordable before they lost jobs – now they can't pay the mortgage, can't sell their homes because they are worth less than the loan, so it's easy to say rent a cheap one bedroom apt. but that's not realistic in all situations. The answer is JOBS!!!

    September 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scandal

      You are right, and is taxing those who create jobs helping or hurting? Is allowing millions of illegals that are working helping or hurting the job prospect? Government has no role in creating jobs, they do have a role in enforcing laws. If the government would get back to what it is supposed to do and keep its nose out of trying to be a job creator maybe that would help this situation.

      September 16, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim


      Just because Fox News says it, that doesn't make it true. Government influences the economy, including the creation of jobs, through fiscal policy. If it didn't, most of us would be re-living the 1930's right now.

      September 16, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Yaeger

    The country is full of people making $10 an hour. The national minimum wage is around $7 an hour. This is horrible. My kid came back from Afghanistan a year and a half ago and still doesn't have a job. His wife works making about $12 an hour. They also have a son, have to pay rent and buy groceries. It can be done but you're not gonna do it drinking coffee at Starbucks and going out to dinner every week. On the other hand where I live, the city is full of people sponging off the government in the form of welfare, etc. They don't want to work.

    September 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • FedUp

      before you say "they" you need to remember that your son is now on of "them" – try applying some of that compassion for your family towards others (or is there a dividing line based on race? income? or some other meaningless reason?)

      September 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jon

    what families need to start doing is what some of our parents and grandparents did. have more than one generation in the same household. kids getting out of college need to move back in with their parents instead of moving out on their own. the difficult part comes when you are like me, exiting college owing $80k and getting a job that pays $27k. you have to weigh your options to determine if you really need to degree or if you can afford the degree. but i moved back in with my parents and worked a part time job as well.

    this is a rough time for many Americans, it we may have to swallow pride and take jobs that we don't want to just to get by...

    September 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jamie

    Lisa, Are you kidding me when you say you dont think enlisted military should be able to get WIC? That comment tells me that you know absolutly nothing about the military base pay. Contray to belief, military does NOT get free housing. We get a housing allowence BECAUSE our base pay is so low that without the housing allowence we would not be able to afford rent. IF we live in military housing then the housing allowence is TAKEN away from us.
    Also, because the military and their families give everything to this company so that people, including you, can have your freedom that comes with being an American, we should be given a hell of alot more then we are. Say Thanks to a vet and their family for your life. You owe it to them.

    September 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • lorien816

      Amen Jamie! I have several military family members, and their pay is disgraceful.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenh

      Thank you Jamie. We are a military family and I am very lucky, as a veteran married to active duty, I work for the miltiary as a civilian. I am very thankful for that. But, I also remember being that young airman's family with a kid, I had just got out of the AF, and there were nights we had to decide between diapers or dinner (we ate a lot of Rameen noodles). It was hard for me to accept that we needed WIC – but it helped out alot. We do not get it now because we make too much money combined, and that is fine with me. Please do not knock the miltiary – if you truly want to see the reality, deploy and have your family sacrifice not only time with you but the added stress on your children and spouse that you may not come home.

      September 17, 2010 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
    • timtom

      I grew up in a military home and served when I was old enough to. I remember clothing with patches on patches. New shoes were Kmart "blue-light specials," called "bobos." They were the cheapest you could find. We used them for church and school. School lunches because we qualified, I didn't know it meant we were poor. "New" clothes were really just new to us. Generic food came in white containers with black letters, lots of rice and beans. New vehicle in '78 came with a V8 and a stick (3 boys learned to drive in it). It lasted 19 years, thank you Jesus.

      We "vacationed" every three years when dad was transferred to a new duty station. It's hard not to see the Grand Canyon when you drive right by it, or the SoCal beaches when you're stationed in LA, or up in the Gateway Arch because you've driven past it so many times. Living in Germany during the Cold War had its own special qualities. Being on "alert" weren't training exercises, dad just left even during church services. The Berlin wall coming down in '89 was a huge relief, but quite soon we were focused on hot, sandy, far away places. I could go on and on, but it would be pointless. Military life is nothing but sacrifice.

      My own time was different because my family was just my wife. We lived in a $265 fully furnished apt. It still had a shag carpet and appliances from the early '70s. There weren't any housing units for married soldiers w/out children. We changed roach motels every three days. Gunfire (non-military) was common in our neighborhood, next to a dive of a strip joint. My low pay was bearable because we waited to have children. Now, as a disabled vet my disability income is higher than my father's paycheck after 24 years in the Army. Only by the grace of God did we make it through then and still do today.

      To the man moving to Costa Rica thank you for your service.

      September 17, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. sallen

    I do not feel sorry for these people. My husband and I live in a first floor apt. and pay for everything we get. The family who lives above us collects disability for herself and a child. Both her and the chils seem fine. She has $1,800 coming in from disability and $400 in child support. Now this woman gets food stamps, is on Hud and her health care is free. She owns a car and spends weekends at some hippie concert in Ohio. I pay my rent, utilities, doctor bills, medicines, eyeglasses, dental and maintain my car. Maria is hoping someone feels sorry for her and gives her what she needs. Wouldn,t it be nice if it were that easy. Get a job Maria. These people don't want to work. They want everything handed to them. I see it all the time. My husband worked for the welfare dept for many years and what people pull is amazing. They have it down to an art. They also get free cars. All they have to do is tell welfare they got a job. Then they quit a couple weeks later because they got the car. Must be nice. No wonder this country is in bad shape. And the woman who used to live there got $600 plus a month in food stamps. Nope, I don't feel sorry for them.

    September 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
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