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Poverty in Oakland County

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Rick David, executive officer of Lighthouse, said those numbers can be deceiving because they belie the number of working poor in each community, those who are gainfully employed, but many are employed below their previous employment levels and earn less than they did before.

The working poor in the United States are those who work, but their incomes tend to fall below a specific poverty line, and they are not counted as either unemployed or within poverty levels. They could be underemployed, working part-time, or earning less than they need to meet their needs. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for a family of four, the 2016 federal poverty level in the 48 contiguous states is $24,300; for a family of three, it is $20,160.

At the same time, the Michigan League for Public Policy estimates in Oakland County, a family of three needs an annual income of $46,944 to meet their basic needs an income level that is 240 percent of the federal poverty level.

The poverty level amounts are used to determine eligibility of people applying for reduced cost healthcare coverage, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP) previously known as food stamps, senior care services, community service block grants, Head Start, free and reduced school lunch programs, and other services.

"The working poor fall just above the poverty threshold, but are often just one paycheck away from spiraling out of control, which would put them into poverty if they couldn't pull it together," said Liz McLachlan, chief development director of Lighthouse. "Many are one medical bill, one car repair, one bump in the road from spiraling down. The concept is before people become stable or self-sufficient, they have to have their needs met. Families have to make tough choices they may have to decide not to pay their gas bill in the summer months because they don't need heat. Instead, they need to buy their kids clothes for school, or a backpack. That is why our goal here at Lighthouse is help them have their basic needs met."

Increasingly, Lighthouse is seeing the working poor, in addition to those living at the poverty level, coming from throughout Oakland County, including from more affluent communities, who are accessing their food pantries "because they've elected to purchase school supplies, because they know Lighthouse will be able to close the gap with their discretionary income."

McLachlan noted that there are items that are very expensive that cannot be purchased at the store with food stamps, such as personal items and diapers.

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