An estimated 45 million Americans live below the federal poverty limit – approximately 14.5% of the population. Among this population, it is projected that 23 million Americans will be without health insurance in 2017: due to financial hardship, lack of medicaid eligibility, or because their place of employment does not offer it. The federal poverty level is defined as a single person earning $13,860 a year, or a family of four living on $28,290 annually. But who exactly are those who live at or below the poverty level?
Examining a few common myths surrounding those who live in poverty helps shed some light on the true nature of those who face economic hardship:
- MYTH: Poor people are lazy and refuse to work, choosing instead to “live off the government”. FACT: The US Department of Labor cites that more than 10 million of those falling under the federal poverty limit comprise of the “working poor” – working full time for at least 27 weeks. The reality is, millions of Americans move in and out of poverty within a given lifetime. More than half of the US population will dip below the poverty line at some point before the age of 65, whether it is for a period of months or a decade. Government aid provided to those in poverty, such as welfare and medicaid, is just another form of Government aid similar to social security, student loans, and unemployment insurance. Most people fall into the category of receiving “Government Aid” at some point.
- MYTH: Poor people are comprised of minorities and undocumented immigrants. FACT: More accurately, those who live in poverty are often those with families, who are currently employed – and largely identify as white. According to current Kairos Center US Poverty Statistics, “In absolute numbers there are more poor non-Hispanic whites than any other racial or ethnic group, 42% of the poor (18.8 million).”
- MYTH: To be poor in the USA is still better than being poor in other countries. FACT: In terms of the world’s wealthiest industrialized nations, the USA ranks second to last in its treatment of poor families when held up against standards of health, education, and social mobility. In contrast to most other developed nations, the Institute for the Study of Labor determined that 42% of American men who grew up in the bottom quintile of incomes remained there as adults. Poverty is pervasive, and not so easy to climb out of in the USA if you are born into it.
- MYTH: Poor people are more likely to waste their money on drugs. FACT: A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found there to be no discernible difference in drug use when comparing the data of those on welfare and the population not receiving welfare. A separate government study found similar results, with yet another study indicating that drug use was actually lower in welfare recipients than in the general public. It is reasonable to conclude that drug use is roughly the same for both welfare and non-welfare recipients. In the general public as with those on welfare, some battle with drug addictions, some do not.
Who are those who fall below the poverty level? At some point in our lives, it may be our friends, community members, or even us.
Want to learn more about the myths surrounding poverty? These audio stories from Busted: America’s Poverty Myths offer startling insight.
Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic provides medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist – but it is free. We serve uninsured adults living at or below 200 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, Wadmalaw or James Islands. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.