Econintersect: The poverty level in the U.S. is defined by an income level that is the same across the country. For an individual the poverty level in 2013 is $11,490; for a family of four it is $23,550. These numbers are for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. The numbers are higher for Hawaii and Alaska. Obviously the standard of living for someone making $11,000 in rural Tennessee is considerably higher than in New York City. Be that as it may, the numbers are what they are and have been used by Visualizing Economics to create a poverty map of the U.S.
Click on map for larger image.
The map indicates many rural areas in the country that are quite red (high poverty), and many urban areas have low poverty. But does that really indicate how well the lower income people are living in the different geographical regions?
For example, consider rent. In Rocky Mount, North Carolina, apparently "presentable" 1-3 bedroom apartments are available for $500 t0 $800 a month. In Boston, Mass, the rents appear to range from $1,100 up to several thousand.
A family of four could rent an apartment in Rocky Mount for something in the $6,000 to $8,000 a year (25% to 33% of income). In Boston, similar accommodations would be at least 50-60% of poverty level income.
Someone with poverty level income lived in a family of four in Rocky Mount could actually afford to live have a decent living accommodations for the family. Not so much in Boston.
And when you recognize that there are 46.2 million people living below the poverty level (2011 data) the magnitude of the problem is amplified.
If we define the poverty line as 4 times housing costs, then the poverty level designation seems quite reasonable for Rocky Mount. However, in Boston 4x $13,200 would define a poverty line near $53,000. That's 2.2 times higher than for Rocky Mount.
If it is assumed that all other costs are the same in both Rocky Mount and Boston, other than rent, then the poverty line in Boston would be near $30,000 a year if $23,550 is the correct number for Rocky Mount.
If such calculations were done across the entire country the color pattern in the excellent Visualizing Economics map would be much changed.
- 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines (Families USA)