SNAPSHOTS OF
POVERTY

A look inside the everyday lives of five people living in Poverty USA.

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rita's table
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Health Care

Rita is trying to manage her blood pressure and other health issues, but her health is failing. Medicare takes care of most of her health care expenses and prescription drugs, and is a vital support for her. Medicare, along with Social Security, helps keep millions of seniors from falling into poverty.

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Transportation

Rita is less and less able to drive. Lack of transportation, especially in rural areas, can isolate seniors from support systems. Without services, they rely on a network of friends for everything from doctors visits to grocery shopping.

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Food Insecurity

Hunger is an issue for seniors. Rita is able to visit her church's food pantry, and it makes a big difference in her life—2.5 million households with seniors are food insecure. (1)

Rita's Table

Rita, 82, lives outside a small town in a farming community. A widow for 8 years, she loves her church and gardening in her vegetable patch.
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She and her husband were never able to save much, so she relies on Social Security for income. An unexpected bill — for health, home, or high fuel bills — could be catastrophic for Rita.

Rita's annual income: $8,400
Single person over 65
Poverty threshold: $10,788
Seniors in poverty: 3.5 million
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Carlos' Backpack
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Transportation

Having his own car would give Carlos a greater capability to expand his search for work, but it's not in the cards right now. Public transportation is a vital lifeline for people in Poverty USA.

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Payday Loans

Payday loans for unexpected expenses are a short-term answer for many people in poverty. However, the costs and rates escalate quickly, and become impossible to repay. New, fair options for micro-credit would help many people in poverty be able to repay their loans faster.

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Living Wage

A living wage will help many people work their way out of poverty. Today's federal minimum wage is $7.25, which yields $15,050 annually at 40 hours a week, but many low-wage workers like Carlos never reach this. Additionally, most low-wage work doesn't include vacation time or paid sick leave.

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Food Assistance

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) keeps millions of people out of Poverty USA. More than one in seven people receive SNAP benefits. (2) With these benefits, Carlos can save more of his income for housing and other expenses.

Carlos' Backpack:

Carlos, 21, lives in the city with relatives, and has always dreamed of being a chef. After high school, he borrowed money for culinary school, but couldn't afford to finish.
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Today, Carlos is earning minimum wage at a fast food restaurant, and busy looking for a better paying job to put him ahead of his student loan debt and other bills.

Carlos' annual income: $10,250
Single person poverty threshold: $11,702.
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Marlene's Kitchen
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Food Assistance

Both boys participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which ensures low-income children have access to at least one healthy meal daily. But the family struggles sometimes to put enough food on the table during the summer.

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Education

Bryan and Rickie Jr. are smart kids, but they're at the age when they need attention and supervision. The family is starting to look ahead and wonder how they could possibly manage any college for the boys.

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Working Poor

Both Marlene and Rick have jobs. Rick works in a big box store, and Marlene cleans hotel rooms during the day and office buildings at night. Many people under the poverty line do work. In 2010, 21 million people lived in working-poor families. (3)

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Medicine

Medical expenses for everyone in the family are a huge worry to Marlene and Rick. While Dad is eligible for Medicare, he still has out-of-pocket medical expenses, and Marlene and Rick are uninsured, a potentially catastrophic situation if either of the wage earners becomes too sick to work.

Marlene's Kitchen:

Marlene, 40, and her husband Rick live with their two sons and Marlene's dad in an apartment in a suburban Midwest community. Everybody helps, but Marlene and Rick have to work several part-time jobs to bring in a yearly income of $23,500.
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Marlene and Rick are typical of the "sandwich" generation; people with growing children and aging parents. Recently, Dad's diabetes has taken a turn for the worse and he can't help with supervision of the boys and homework as much as he did, not to mention his additional medical expenses. Marlene is wondering whether she will have to give up her day job so that she can take care of her father, which will drive them further into poverty.

Marlene and Rick's annual income: $23,500
Family of five poverty threshold: $27,517
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Jimmy's Table
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Independent Living

Jimmy has his own room at a house shared by three people with disabilities. Part of Jimmy's training at the agency involves daily living skills such as cooking and maintaining his own apartment that help him to live on his own.

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Transportation

Jimmy is able to take public transportation to the agency for his daily work. However, the city is facing cutbacks, and schedules and routes will be affected. For many people with disabilities, transportation is one of the greatest challenges to employment.

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Underemployment

Jimmy has time on his hands. Adults with disabilities, whether physical or developmental, are chronically underemployed and live in poverty at twice the rate (28%) of adults without disabilities (12.5%). Many have more than one disability, which further hampers them from finding employment. (4)

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Skills Training

Jimmy has received employment and skills training, and now uses a cane effectively to find his way around his work, apartment and neighborhood. His goal is to be fully productive, without having to rely on assistance.

Jimmy's Table:

Jimmy, 35, has been legally blind since he was a boy. Like many people with disabilities, Jimmy is underemployed.
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He has a part-time job at the local service agency for the blind; however they can only afford to give him a small stipend. He also receives government disability assistance.

Jimmy's annual income: $5,000
Government assistance (SSDI): $6,500
Single person poverty threshold: $11,702
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Jimmy's Table
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Education

Mia is on the waiting list to get into an afterschool program that's expanding to a facility near her. The group offers homework help, activities, computer programs, mentoring and health education. While Mia is excited at the possibility, this service would be a godsend to her mother.

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Daycare

Without daycare, Mia has to get home to their apartment by herself, where she can do her homework and watch TV until Mom gets home. Mia is young for this. Generally the safe age for a so-called "latchkey kid" is considered to be 12. Mia's mom worries about her being alone, but can't afford the move to a safer neighborhood.

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Community Services

There's a community garden down the street from Mia's apartment. The families in the area work together to grow fruits and vegetables (and some flowers, too). Sometimes Mia joins some friends from school and works in the garden, learning about fresh food. Every bit helps.

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Food Insecurity

According to the USDA, 16 million children live in food insecure households. (5) Federal food assistance—such as SNAP, the School Lunch Program, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—decrease the overall poverty rate by over 1.5% percent and is one of the most effective antipoverty measures in the country. (6)

Mia's Schoolbag:

Mia is 10 years old and lives with her mom in the city. Her mom works as a cashier at the corner discount store, without benefits. During hard times, Mom's hours can be reduced, which can add up to hard choices for their little family.
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While Mia loves school, the real problem facing her mom is after-school daycare, which she can't afford, and how to take care of Mia in the summer when school is out. With the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, Mia's mom can make about $15,000 a year working 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, that's still below the poverty threshold for a family of two. Today in the United States, more than 20 million children live in poverty. (4)

Mia's mom's annual income: $15,000
Family of two poverty threshold: $15,504
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