Adult Education

Activity 1

“Hard Living on the Poverty Line”

Is the poverty line a realistic measure? Can families whose income is at the poverty line have enough money to secure the basic needs to live in America today? Can people hold a steady job, work full time and still find themselves falling below the poverty line?

Have your group follow these steps to better understand the personal economics of poverty:

1. Determine what the minimum wage is in the United States today – that is, the dollar amount per hour. Then, calculate what a worker earning that much per hour could make in a year, based upon a 40-hour week and 52 weeks a year.

A full-time worker, earning the minimum wage of $7.25, working 2080 hours a year, would earn $15,080.

2. Refer to the federal poverty guidelines and find the income level needed for a family of three to be considered “above the poverty line.”

For a family of 3 living in the 48 continuous states, the poverty line is set at $20,160.

3. Compare the annual earnings of an individual working full time at minimum wage and the poverty line for a family of three. Note the discrepancy. Now, using the minimum wage figure, determine how many total hours that family must work to be above the poverty line. Consider the following: Is only one member in that family capable of working? Is it a single-parent family? If so, will it require one person working more than one job to rise above the poverty line?

4. Taking the poverty-line calculation for a family of three, explore whether that level of income can actually provide for all basic needs. Determine the monthly minimum wage ($1,256), then estimate the amount a family of three would spend in a month for:

Food (eating in):


Meals (away from home):
















Source: Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2014-2015, based on an annual household income range of $10,000-$14,999

5. Keep adjusting the figures until the monthly budget limit is met. Having trouble making ends meet? Imagine how a family living in poverty feels.