York Dispatch (Pennsylvania), June 23, 2008: Pa. families float awfully close to the poverty line

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By LARRY A. HICKS The York Dispatch

Article Last Updated: 06/23/2008 10:47:06 AM EDT

I ll bet many of us didn’t know just how close we are to financial disaster.

Closer than we think, I’ll betcha.

Every two years, Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania conducts a study of economic prosperity for families throughout the state. It’s broken down by county of residence.

In York County, for instance, the minimum amount of money considered necessary to survive is $17,780 for a single adult. A family of two adults and two children are working at a bare-bones level with an income of $48,304.

That’s what we used to call — and maybe still do — living from paycheck to paycheck.

In other words, that’s one paycheck away from financial disaster — not being able to cover minimum expenses for food, taxes, child care, health care, mortgage or rent.

Most of us have been there at some time in our lives.

More than just a few of us are close to that situation this very minute.

Hey, $18,000 a year is not a lot of money these days even if you don’t have to take prescription drugs and if you share other expenses by living with your mom or dad. That’s a lot of ifs.

However, $48,304 — at first glance — seemed like a goodly sum of money. I mean a family should be able to live on close to $50,000 a year, shouldn’t they?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’m telling you, it could be a lot worse. There are people living in York County who are living on a lot less money per year than those “survival” minimums.

The truth is, both amounts are considerably


higher than the federal poverty threshold. In 2007, for example, the feds held that a single person under the age of 65 was living in poverty if his or her annual income was $10,787 or less. A single person over the age of 65 was living in poverty at $9,944.

A family of four in 2007 was considered to be living in poverty on an income of $21,077, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

So this study shows that folks living by themselves are allowed to earn twice the federal poverty level and still be considered on the edge of financial disaster. A family of four can exist on double the poverty level, plus $6,000 a year, and still be living bare bones, according to the survey.

As difficult as it apparently is to live on $18,000 and $48,000 a year, imagine how much more difficult it is for most recipients of Social Security benefits in York County who are lucky if they receive a monthly check in the amount of $1,000. That’s $12,000 a year.

There’s no room in that budget for health care, child care, mortgage or rent. You can’t afford to own a car, and you shiver your way through the winter months. And you’d better be healthy enough that you don’t need prescription drugs.

You can buy food. You can pay the gas, electric and phone bills. You can meet your doctor’s co-pays. You can pay your taxes, with help. You can purchase an occasional item

of clothing or new shoes. That’s at $1,000 a month.

It’s above the federal poverty level, but barely. And it falls about $6,000 below what would be considered a bare-bones budget.

The working poor obviously are having a difficult time making ends meet — singles, couples and families of any size.

It’s worse, though, for the elderly poor trying to live on Social Security.

The lesson is clear: Look hard enough and you can always find someone worse off than you are.

Sad, but true.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail:

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