inside a case worker's head

here's a few uncoordinated thoughts on the federal poverty level, the criteria used to determine eligibility for most forms of state and federal assistance.
the federal poverty level is a income threshold that is re-evaluated annually based on inflation. the formula for calculating poverty has not been significantly changed in over 40 years. it is based on the cost of food and how much of one's income the US Dept of Health and Human Services assumes one spends on food. the basic idea is that a person spends about a third of their income on food. the govemment makes an assessment on how much food would feed a person for a month, estimates what it would cost and then multiplies it by three.
the main issue i have with this is that it doesn't make sense. think about it, do you spend a third of your income on food? i don't. what about your housing cost? the cost of housing has increased faster than the rate of inflation. much faster.
if your monthly income is $850 or below in 2007 you are in poverty. if you are unlucky enough to be at or below this place, you will hopefully be eligible for multiple types of assistance like Medicaid or Food Stamps.
lets say that you work a minimum wage job.
(i am going to use the federal minimum wage because we are looking at the federal poverty level. each state has the ability to create their own minimum wage)
you make $5.85 an hour and you probably work about 37 hours weekly because your employer doesn't want you to be eligible for company health insurance. you gross about $11,255 annually. you are over the federal poverty level of $10,210 annually for a single person.
based on the way the goverment looks at it you spend about $312 on food. that leaves you $626 for rent, utilities/phone, transportation and health care (because you are over the income threshold for Medicaid). considering the median rent in 2000 was $602 monthly, you're screwed. what are you going to go without? you certainly cannot afford a car and insurance, so how do you get to your job? how do you pay for public transportation? what happens if you get sick?
how much of a difference in comfort is there between the person who has an annual income of $10,000 and $13,000? not much from the way i see it. but the goverment doesn't see the latter as being in poverty.
certainly this definition of poverty is helpful for the purpose of statistics. in my opinion the current federal poverty threshold is very low, and in turn it looks like we have less poor people in our country.
what happens to all the folks just above the poverty level? there is an enormous amount of people that exist between the poverty level and the 'middle class'. these folks work hard and pay taxes. they often don't have health insurance and can't afford stable or safe housing. they have unreliable forms of transportation. they work jobs with no security and feel invaluable and overlooked. they don't vote because no one is talking about things they experience, or maybe they are just too busy 'surviving' to care.
at a time when we are cautiously hopeful for real change in the united states, i would certainly like to hear more political conversation in this area. although the idea of universal health care is optimistic, it is only one small piece of the larger puzzle. are there any politicians creating a comprehensive solution to poverty in the united states?
if so, please let me know.

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