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Who is considered poor in the USA: the consumer basket and the standard of living of Americans

Poverty is always a matter of counting methodology. In one country, you can not have your own home and car, wash it by hand, not have access to high-quality medicine and education, but at the same time not be considered poor, because someone from above announced the threshold figure of who should be considered the middle class, the author of the channel believes "Krizistan" on "Yandex.Zen".

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In another country, you can earn good money, provide your family with everything you need, but at the same time receive financial assistance from the state. Because everyone who earns less than 60% of the average salary is considered poor in it and receives financial support.

Who is considered poor in the US?

In the United States, the method of determining poverty cannot be called ultramodern, but it is as fair as possible. Their philosophy of defining poverty is fundamentally different from ours - the poor include those who cannot purchase goods and services in sufficient quantities, the consumption of which is taken for granted in society.

In other words, if everyone around you eats crabs 3 times a week, and you only once a month, because there is not enough money, you are poor, you need to help. There are thousands of goods and services in the American consumer basket. And not at all those that are listed above! And those that are in demand among the people.

What lies in the American "subsistence" basket

In the Russian version of Wikipedia, there is an inscription that the American consumer basket consists of 300 goods and services, while the Russian one consists of only 156. And few people look at the source footnote: these are data for 1992. In Russia, time seems to have stopped, the "subsistence" basket is not just not growing, but quite officially frozen until 2021.

In the United States, both the calculation method and the number of goods and services have changed: now there are thousands of them. The collection and processing of data is handled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is something like our Ministry of Labor, only with broader functions.

Ordinary Americans keep diaries of their purchases for a long time (yes, they are paid extra for this, but there are no publicly available prices). This is done by 12 thousand US residents from different states, with different social and property status, living in cities.

Why only urban ones? Because according to statistics, 93% of US residents live in cities, and the consumer basket is designed to take into account the needs of the bulk of the population.

Weekly shopping diary for rent at BLS. In addition, quarterly surveys of US citizens about their purchases are conducted.

All information is analyzed, goods are sorted according to demand and a consumer basket is formed. If a product is important to many families, it ends up in the consumer basket.

This approach has significantly fewer drawbacks than the Russian consumer basket approved from above. It provides an accurate picture of the preferences of the average consumer and makes it possible, when paying benefits, to ensure that the needy is not beggarly, but the national average standard of living.

On the subject: 15% of Americans live below the poverty line: what income does this mean in your state

Basket composition in the USA

Russian major media sometimes write that the composition of an American's "subsistence" basket is only 200 items. I suspect that the cunning journalists simply chose the number they liked on the BLS website and began to distribute it thoughtlessly.

In fact, not 200, but more than 200, and not products, but product categories. For example, the category "chilled meat" will include chicken, beef (on the bone - separately, steaks - separately), turkey, pork, etc. Up to kangaroo meat, if a significant number of families indicate in their consumer diaries that they bought it regularly.

Products and services from more than 200 categories can be grouped into eight main groups for convenience.

For those who want to evaluate the entire list - link from BLS.

1. Food and beverage

It is divided into two large subgroups - groceries purchased at home and meals outside the home. The basket includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Beer, wine, ale, whiskey on equal terms with milk and soda are included in the American consumer basket.

To understand how many things can be included in one category, here are the pork postings:

  • Bacon, breakfast sausage and related
  • Bacon and related products
  • Breakfast sausage and related products
  • Ham
  • Ham, excluding canned food
  • Pork chops
  • Other pork including roasts, steaks, and ribs


Analyzes the cost of renting living space and spending on the maintenance of your own home. This also includes furniture, home improvement products, household appliances, and more.


There are no absurd norms here, as we have, when it is proposed to wear only socks for six months. Clothing purchases are analyzed in quarterly surveys and the average is displayed.

All the necessary goods are presented - from sneakers to ties.


There is no gasoline in the Russian basket, but in the American one. Moreover, it even includes new and used cars and costs for parking, car service, auto repair and compulsory insurance.

Medical service

Medical services received in hospitals and counseling centers, medical services. This also includes medical supplies, home care for the disabled and the elderly, the cost of glasses and eye care - a lot.


Such an extensive set is not found anywhere else in the world. Everything is here: from photographic supplies to accessories for pets. Books, newspapers, magazines, music subscriptions, sports equipment, toys, audio equipment, club membership fees and dozens of other products and services.

Education and communication

College textbooks, computer hardware, software, the Internet, and cellular communications are all part of the American consumer basket. On the basis of which, let me remind you, the living wage is calculated and benefits are paid.

Other goods and services

For me, an experienced smoker, it was very interesting to find “Tobacco and products for smoking” on the list. I suppose I will never see them in my native Russian consumer basket.

On the subject: Barely making ends meet: the poorest cities in different states of the USA

United States poverty line

For this approach, the United States is often criticized by both its own experts and foreign ones. Because it turns out that a person independently satisfies basic needs, but the state helps him for some reason. For some, including me, this is perplexing. In my opinion, if a person can and wants to work, he should not be fed with benefits, but create conditions in which he can earn a sufficient income through his own labor.

The poverty line is determined by HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) based on the results of social surveys of US residents. This is a fixed figure with posting for different types of households.

For example, for a family of three in 2018, the poverty line was $ 20 per year. A one-person household needed $ 780, ​​and a large family of 12 needed an income of $ 140.

Interestingly, the numbers are the same for 49 states, including the metropolitan area of ​​Columbia. And in Alaska and Hawaii, the poverty threshold is 10-25% higher.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

Who is most likely to fall below the poverty line?

After reviewing the entire dataset of the US Census Bureau, I made conclusions by risk groups. These include:

  • Pensioners receiving only a fixed state pension.
  • Able-bodied Americans working for minimum wages in states where the federal hourly rate ($ 7,25 per hour) and below.
  • Job-loss people and bankrupt entrepreneurs.

How many poor are there in the US?

No matter how much the last president of the United States was scolded, the standard of living of people under him grew. At least objectively measured poverty declined from year to year.

At the end of 2019 - this is the most recent Bureau of Poverty and Income report - the United States recorded the lowest number of poor people on record.

The official poverty rate in 2019 was 10,5%. By comparison, in 2014, 14,8% of the US population was poor. If not as a percentage, in 2019 only 34 million people were in poverty.

Interestingly, despite the artsy struggle for equality and equal opportunity, race continues to influence living standards. Among whites, the Bureau counted only 9,1% of the poor, while among blacks and Hispanics - 18,8% and 15,7%, respectively. However, Asians feel the best in the United States - among the representatives of this race of the poor, only 7,3%.

Meanwhile, in Russia, according to the results of the first half of 2020, the number of the poor was 13,2% of the population or 19,8 million people (figure from Rosstat). These are people with incomes below the subsistence level, calculated according to Russian templates.

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