Imagine someone who is too poor to afford their own food. Imagine what they look like, where they live, how they dress, and what their family looks like (if they have one). Keep that image in your mind as you read through the rest of this post because I guarantee you just about every aspect of that person you are envisioning is wrong. I’m ready to stop the spread of all the generic stereotypes of poverty and uncover the truth.
For a family of four with two adults and two children, the annual household income must be equal or less than $22,811 to be considered to be in poverty. More than 48.7 million individuals and 16.1 million children are living below the poverty level right now. That’s over 957,375 individuals and 310,000 children in just New Jersey.
1. Stereotype: “People are poor because they’re lazy”
Truth: Of the 46.5 million people who are classified as poor in the US, 10.5 million of them are classified as “the working poor.” These people are working at least 1 full time job as well as typically a part time job on the side.
They are still classified as “poor” because they are being paid minimum wage and are unable to afford most necessities that others often take for granted, like paying electricity bills, buying gas, and purchasing shampoo and toothpaste.
Would you want to be considered lazy while working 2 full time jobs or spending yours day off at your part time job? I definitely wouldn’t.
2. Stereotype: “Food stamps are enough to feed a family so they don’t need any other help”
Truth: For a family of 4, the maximum amount of food stamps benefits allowed is $649. Once divided up among 4 people, each individual will be able to spend $4.50 per day on food or $1.50 per meal. However, most families don’t even qualify to be able to receive that full amount. Could you imagine spending only $1.50 or less on each meal?
3. Stereotype: “Poverty is only a minority issue”
Truth: 47% of all people in poverty in the United States are actually white, contrary to popular belief. Yes, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and all other ethnicities are all also affected by poverty, but 4.2 million of the total poverty-stricken individuals are actually white.
Poverty is definitely not a struggle that is only faced by minorities—it affects people of all ethnicities.
4. Stereotype: “People are poor because they have more kids than they can afford to take care of”
Truth: With over 400,000 children struggling with hunger as a result of poverty just in New Jersey, the majority of children in poverty all over the US are in households with just two or fewer children.
I’m sure that some families do consist of more than 1 or 2 children, but they do not make up the majority of households in poverty; most are just your average family.
5. Stereotype: “Poor people don’t have to worry about much because the government pays for everything for them”
Truth: Very little families qualify for multiple government assistance programs. The most common program that families qualify for is NJ SNAP (or food stamps). However, 77% of clients part of the Community FoodBank of NJ still said that there had been a time when they had to choose between paying for utilities or food. Another 70% of clients said that had to choose between housing and food at least once.
Government assistance programs are made to help struggling families, not provide them with every little thing they need. When was the last time you had to choose between paying your mortgage or buying groceries for the month?
6. Stereotype: “Food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens will feed poor people, so they’ll never be hungry”
Truth: There is usually a limit as to how often you can receive food from food banks and pantries, so it’s not as though poverty-stricken families can stop by just as often as you would go to the grocery store. Also, based on either your annual or monthly household income, there’s a limit on how much you can receive.
Aside from that, 70% of clients at the CFBNJ said they plan on getting food assistance at any of these facilities on a regular basis to help out. However, 42% of food assistance programs said they occasionally run out of food to provide to those in need since there are so many people.
I bet that the image of the poverty-stricken person you visualized has changed the way they look, where they live, how they dress, and what their family looks like, right?
Let’s be real. There’s no stereotypical face of poverty because it can happen to just about anyone, sometimes through no fault of their own. Some of those struggling can include the coworker you see every day or even your neighbor right next door. Ditch the stereotypes. Anyone can be affected by poverty, but you can make a difference.