The Department of Health and Human Services issues poverty guidelines each year. These guidelines cover the 48 contiguous United States and the District of Columbia. Different guidelines cover Alaska and Hawaii. The federal government also uses these guidelines to identify low-income Americans.
Nearly 146.4 million Americans, or nearly half the population, are at or below low-income levels, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The census identified 97.3 million low-income Americans and 49.1 million Americans living at or below the poverty line. Of low-income earners, about two-thirds earned just enough to put them above the poverty line.
The Department of Health and Human Services bases poverty guidelines on the number of people in your household. For example, in 2013, if you live alone and earn no more than $11,490 in a year, then you live at or below the poverty level. A family of four who lives together and who, in total, earns no more than $23,550 lives at or below the poverty level.
Low-income earners can earn at or no more than 199% of the poverty level. For example, if you live alone, the federal government considers you a low-income earner if you earn between $11,490 and $22,865.10 (1.99 x $11,490). The government considers a family of four earning no more than $46,864.50 ($23,550 x 1.99) as low income. These income limits don't account for taxes. You may earn $22,865.10 but take home nearly 25% less, depending on the amount withheld from your paycheck.
Many low-income earners earn minimum wage, which in 2013 is $7.25. A minimum-wage worker who works 40 hours a week earns $290 a week -- $1,160 a month or $13,920 a year. The federal government considers a person who lives alone and earns minimum wage a low-income earner. That same person, if supporting three other people, would fall squarely below the poverty line. A single person living alone can earn upward of $10.99 an hour and still qualify as low income.
The amount you can earn and still qualify to take part in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s public-housing program depends on where you live. The most you can earn and still qualify for low-income housing is 80 percent of the median income levels for the county or city in which you live. Earning at or below 50 percent of that median income level means you meet HUD’s lowest low-income limits.
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