The Practical Poverty Level

The Practical Poverty Level

By Josh Tolley


NOTE: What  you are about to read is so shocking that I myself had to take a couple days to grasp the magnitude of the situation.  I strongly urge you to pass this along to everyone you know as soon as possible!

Officially, the poverty level in America (according to HHS) for a single person is $10,830/yr, but for awhile now I have found that number a little suspicious, as I know people who make much more than that and they are struggling all the time.  What I have outlined below is what I am calling “Practical Poverty Level.”  What is Practical Poverty?  It is the amount of money the average American would need to make in order to have NO money left for basic living expenses after paying the foundational expenses.

I have listed the twelve foundational expenses that most people have in their lives as single individuals with a college education.  Obviously, there are areas in this list that may be lower for you personally and others which are drastically higher; all that means is that your personal poverty level would need to be adjusted to fit your life.  However, do not let the fact that your bills are higher/lower distract you from the power of what you are about to read, because this IS what most people are facing and exactly why the world is in the financial situation it currently finds itself.  This article should alarm and shock every reader!

The Monthly Foundational Basics

Rent – $1,000

Car Insurance – $144.66

Cell Phone – $73

Utilities – $264.33

Cable/Internet – $100.63

Food – $332

Gas – $220

Car Payment – $466

10% savings for retirement – $385

College loan payment – $575

Life Insurance – $33

Health Insurance – $402

As you can see, there is nothing “excessive” on the above list and I know we can all agree that this looks pretty basic and sound.  Do you know what this means?  It means you need to make, as a single adult, $69,600 a year ($70 grand) before taxes in order to have NO money left over!  Let me say it again:


If we were to look at this in terms of per hour pay, a new college graduate would have to be making $33.46/hr in order to be broke!

Notice what is NOT on this list!  We did not list any clothes; I hope you live someplace warm.  We didn’t list furniture, so you are sitting on the floor.  We didn’t list dishes, so you are eating with your hands. No Netflix…sad.  Stamps, toilet paper, a flashlight, parking ticket, or even a tulip for your window are all examples of what you cannot have at $70,000 a year.

Stop for a second and think about what you just read!  Yes, you can get 5 roommates and cut that rent payment down, yes, you can go without cable to save some cash, but even if we cut this list in HALF..IN HALF, you still would have a practical poverty level of $35,000/yr and remember, that is still going to be with no furniture, no books, and no batteries for your remote.  Forget ever going on a date (which would be hard since you can’t afford a toothbrush) or owning a pet.  Matter of fact, you cannot buy a mirror to hang in your room without; a) not paying one of your bills, or b) going into debt.

Now that we have discovered that the practical poverty level for a single individual living on their own is $70,000 (higher for most, slightly lower for others), it should scare you half to death to realize the average TWO income home makes only $57,000.  Don’t forget, two people would increase your practical poverty level as there would be a higher food bill, more insurance, a second car, and remember at $70,000 you can’t even afford rubber bands; so how did you ever afford to get married?! To take this a bit further, I have a report on my desk showing how if you have one child it will cost $300,000 to raise the child from birth to 18 years of age.  Sounds high?  That’s only $1,300 a month!  You will need more space, more food, insurance costs go up, and don’t forget clothes and school. $1,300 a month is actually cheap when you think about it!  So that puts a small family at a practical poverty level of $101,608 (48.85/hr).

I know what you are thinking: “NO WAY! This can’t be right.  Is this right? The math makes sense but NO WAY! Can this be right?!”

You have just been awakened to one of the biggest secrets in the world!  Obviously, there are those around us who have pets, they may own a rake; so this means this article has to be incorrect, right?  No.  What it means is, if they make below the practical poverty level they either are not meeting their bills, have debt, or lessened their life experience (i.e. 3 roommates).

This means that a middle class family should be defined as starting at $101,608 and that is why, from a political perspective,  no political party can “fix the middle class”, because they are using figures for the middle class as being in the mid $50k a year bracket.  Below poverty is the same as below the water line.  If you take someone from $50k to $58K they are still going to drown aren’t they?!

I am fully aware that a reader’s natural instinct is to fight this article in their mind.  I have heard it all about how, “I make $30,000 and am doing just fine”, and good for you.  But don’t let your ability of manage crumbs distract you from seeing the truth, and the truth is that the above is accurate and sound.  That means we need to re-adjust our compass in terms of how we approach our financial lives.  Again, I will remind you, I didn’t even begin to touch upon things such as the need to take care of an aging parent, a disabled child, or saving for a down payment on a home.  You can fight this article all you want, but all one needs to do is take a look around and see that what we once classified as “enough” is no longer cutting it.  The faster a reader comes to that reality, the faster adjustments can be made in order to make “more than enough.”

Bottom line, if we continue to teach our children to go to school and get a job (with a starting salary under $80,000/yr), and if we continue to focus our economy on “creating jobs”, we will continue to harm our children and our nation.  The focal shift needs to be made toward reaching our individual potential and that is never done through employment.  Wealth is unlimited and available to everyone.  From a political/social standpoint we need to encourage our leaders to shift the focus as well.  Instead of “creating jobs”, focus on creating an environment which encourages small business, which will in turn, create more jobs AND more wealth.

Note: When doing the math, don’t forget to tax the individual at 30-35%.

Josh Tolley is a business and behavioral strategist and hosts a daily talk-show on GCN Radio Network, which is heard from coast to coast and around the world.  His latest book, “Quit Your Job or Die: Discover the Importance of Self-Employment” has been a top ten best seller for over 16 weeks. He has been seen on NBC, CBS, on over 100 stations nationwide and he has been heard from coast to coast on the radio.  His teachings have been implemented by hundreds of people and dozens of businesses around the globe. He is ranked as one of the top 100 business and personal growth trainers in the world and is the developer of many human interaction technologies and strategies. Josh does take on a VERY limited number of personal clients, to discuss this or to book Josh for a seminar in your area, contact us at  You can also find out more about what Josh is up to at


4 thoughts on “The Practical Poverty Level

  1. Pingback: World Spinner
    1. So what do you do about the real poor people if you are saying 70K makes you poor? Seventy thousand is an excellent income for a single man with no dependents. His budgeting skills stink. The cellphone alone is an example. There are paygo phones that cost you all of $73.00 a YEAR let alone $73.00/month. They are basic, voice only plans through pageplus cellular or tracphone.

      1. Mary, it is not my budget or the budget I’m suggesting. Yes, people can settle for whatever they wish. If you think this was about a budget or how to budget, you missed the point.

        The point was to display how much it takes for these average expenses that most people have. Realizing that $70,000 is not what it used to be.

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