Poverty line, or poverty threshold, is used to mark the minimum income needed to achieve a satisfactory standard of living. While this may mean different thing in different parts of the world, in the US, being above this threshold means having access to water, food, shelter, education, medical care, and adequate clothing. The poverty line varies widely depending on the state, the number of people living in the household, the number of children in the household, and factors like disability and access to medical care.
In the US, the poverty line rises or falls every year according to the Consumer Price Index and other factors. In 2010, a single person needed to earn a minimum of $11,139 US Dollars (USD) (more in Alaska and Hawaii) a year to stay over the threshold. A family of four needed a combined income of at least $22,113 USD. According to these guidelines, more than 46.2 million people in the US were living in poverty in that year.
Individuals who fall below the poverty line often lack basic things like microwaves, clothes dryers, and computers. Research has found that 91% of these families own a color TV and 52% own a stereo, however. Close to 90% of Americans in poverty have regular access to food, either through food stamps or food assistance programs like soup kitchens. A much higher percentage lack access to medical care, and while a few may be admitted into Medicaid or other government programs, most are not. This is especially true of adults, as children and the elderly have an easier time obtaining free medical care.
On an interesting note, 46% of individuals who fall under the poverty line own their own homes. This is a percentage similar to the one obtained from people who own an acceptable income and do not receive government assistance. Of that 46%, some own a mobile home, and some own a three-bedroom home, although the general condition of the housing can vary widely. Many people who live in poverty are in urgent need for basic household repairs, such as a roof replacement or a pipeline fitting, and must do without them.
Critics of the current system used to determine the poverty threshold argue that the percentage of people living in poverty is actually much higher than what it seems. This is because the line does not take into consideration certain factors such as rent or the median price of a home. In other words, the threshold in the United States is the same, no matter what the cost of living in the area is (with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii). If the calculation did take these factors into account, they argue, the percentage of Americans living in poverty would likely be much higher.