Poverty in America — living below The Line

The Line is an important documentary that covers the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line. They have goals. They have children. They work hard. They are people like you and me. Across America, millions are struggling every day to make it above The Line.

As shown in the Stats below and the accompanying infographic, poverty is a drag on the economy that also affects the cost of healthcare, as I’ve written before in this blog.


People often talk about the widening income & wealth gap, but for people below the poverty line, there’s an Opportunity gap as portrayed in the video. Here are some of the statistics I gathered from the video and from our description of the Healthcare Problem & Market Opportunity.

  • The U.S. Census bureau defines the poverty line as $23,000 for a family of four.
  • 46 million Americans live in poverty, which is over 16% of the 280M total population.
  • That’s the third highest rate in the developed world, behind only Turkey & Mexico.
  • 25% of our children live in poverty – shameful for the richest nation in the world.
  • Over 7 million adults work two or more jobs just to make ends meet.
  • 1 in 3 workers have low-wage jobs that cannot keep a family of four above the line.
  • The working poor are twice as likely to give up sleep to work.
  • 40% of seniors are low-income (below 150% of poverty level) and need public assistance.
  • There’s a direct relationship between poverty and obesity, as described in America’s Obesity Epidemic.
    • Disadvantaged communities are at higher risk for many preventable health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis B and C, and infant mortality.
    • That’s partially due to the lack of fresh and nutritious food at affordable prices and the lack of sidewalks and parks that encourage exercise.
    • Pressures from Job, Money, Divorce and Violence cause a vicious cycle of Stress = Obesity = Stress … (Exercise helps relieve that stress.)
    • Public health officials can accurately predict obesity rates by zip code and have noticed average lifespan differences of over 20 years between poor neighborhoods on one side of town and affluent ones on the other.
  • About Poor Women (living below the poverty line)
    • Over 24M Women were poor in 2009 (US Census)
    • Single Mothers are TWICE as likely to be poor as single Fathers (AmericanProgress.org)
    • Women make on average $0.77 for every dollar a man makes (US Census)
    • 27.5% of Black women were poor in 2009, versus 27.4% of Hispanic and 13.5% of White women (US Census)
    • Women are more likely to be poor than men across all racial & ethnic groups (AmericanProgress.org)
    • Elderly Women are more likely to be poor than elderly men. In 2008, 13% of women over 75 were poor, compared to 6% of men over 75. (AmericanProgress.org)
    • In 2008, 54% of poor women were SINGLE without dependent children (AmericanProgress.org)
    • Poor Women are more likely to be diagnosed with Depression and other mental health disorders (American Psychological Association)
    • 54% of women ages 18-34 have struggled to afford Birth Control at some point (The Daily Kos)
    • Poor women are more likely to experience postpartum depression and to deliver premature babies (American Psychological Association)

Broke and Broken

Broke and Broken


Text from infographic for screen readers

For the more than 40 million Americans in poverty, everyday life is a struggle — buying food, going to school, getting a job. And for a great many of them, what most people think of as simple tasks are also difficult. Let’s explore the picture of poverty in the U.S. and the psychological and physical toll it takes.

Poverty in the U.S.

46.5 million Americans live below the poverty line.

16 million Children live in poverty.

$11,490 is the 2013 poverty line for a single person. That’s the equivalent of working full time and making only about $5.50 an hour, which is far below the minimum wage.

Where it’s worst – Percentage of residents below poverty line by state







Less than 11%


The Brain on Poverty

Researchers have determined that the mental strain placed on a poor person is immense, affecting their ability to do well in school, to succeed at work — even to pay bills on time.
Roughly 13 points IQ drop is caused by poverty.

Why? While there’s much about the human mind scientists have yet to decode, we do know that mental processing is finite. It’s the reason you think less quickly at the end of a long day.

What does it mean? The limited brain power caused by poverty is likely to create a series of problems in handling everyday tasks. Poverty may affect things like:

  • Awareness
  • Decision making
  • Memory
  • Patience
  • Focus

Stressed to Death

Adding to the reduced mental capacity brought on by poverty, the poor also have to navigate the rigors of everyday stress, most of which are made far worse by lack of income.

Top causes of stress for U.S. adults

  • Work Co-worker tension, bosses, overload
  • Money Loss of job, reduced retirement, medical expenses
  • Health Health Crisis, terminal or chronic illness
  • Relationships Divorce, death of spouse, arguments with friends, loneliness
  • Poor nutrition Inadequate nutrition, caffeine, processed foods, refined sugars
  • Media overload Television, radio, Internet, email, social networking
  • Sleep deprivation Inability to release adrenaline and other stress hormones

3 in 4 Americans who regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress

76% of people who cite work and money as their top causes of stress report physical and psychological symptoms.

% of those who reported physical or psychological symptoms who said they had the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue 51%
  • Headache 44%
  • Upset stomach 34%
  • Muscle tension 30%
  • Change in appetite 23%
  • Teeth grinding 17%
  • Change in sex drive 15%
  • Feeling dizzy 13%
  • Irritability or anger 50%
  • Feeling nervous 45%
  • Lack of energy 45%
  • Feeling as though you could cry 35%



Comments on “Poverty in America — living below The Line

  1. RELATED ARTICLES – I’ll add more as I find them:

    United Nations journey finds that America is a land of both Great Wealth and EXTREME POVERTY (The Guardian)

    This Tax Bill Is a Trillion-Dollar Blunder.” (Billionaire Michael Bloomberg tells us why)

    U.S. life expectancy varies by more than 20 years from county to county (Washington Post, 5/8/2017)

    The Decline of the Middle Class: Stealth Governance and Income Inequality (Huffington Post – on policies that widened the wealth gap)

    Inequality Kills — But What Can Medical Providers Do About It? (Huffington Post – on the health impact of poverty)

    Wealth Inequality, Healthcare and the Economy Excellent video infographic showing just how wide the wealth gap has gotten, with a documentary featuring former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explaining why.

    What if our healthcare system kept us healthy? (TED Talk about Poverty)

    Pop-up clinics trying to bridge America’s health divide — This excellent article from the guardian features mobile clinics serving southwest Virginia. It’s a telling expose’ of how the wealth divide applies to health and healthcare.

    Why do so many people lack access to fresh food? WFAA, an ABC affiliate

    My Reality: A Hidden America (an ABC News 20/20 report by Diane Sawyer, 1/13/2017)

    * $56,516 is the annual median household income in the United States. (US Census Bureau)
    * MOST (68%) of the country’s income growth since 1980 went to the top 10% of earners. (National Bureau of Economic Research)
    * NONE (0%) of the country’s income growth since 1980 went to the entire bottom half of earners. (National Bureau of Economic Research)
    * 117 Million Americans saw their income fall or keep up with inflation in almost four decades. That is half of the country. (National Bureau of Economic Research)
    * JUST 45% of middle-income millennials earn more than their parents did at the same age, adjusted for inflation. A half-century ago, 93% of middle income Americans earned more than their parents had. (National Bureau of Economic Research)
    * ONLY 50% of Americans are middle class. In 1971, it was 61%. (Pew Research Center)
    * 92 metro areas where lack affordable housing for families making a median household income. (Center for Housing Policy)
    * 53% of Americans say they don’t have enough savings to cover three months of living expenses if they lose their job. (Federal Reserve Survey, 2015)
    * 56% of the fastest growing new jobs pay under $12/hour, on average. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, analyzed by ABC News)
    * 73% of public assistance goes to working families (UC Berkeley Labor Center)

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