Man holding an empty wallet.

18 Common Beliefs About Poverty That Americans Need To Rethink

Many of us are guilty of believing common myths about poverty, especially if we haven’t experienced it. But here’s one thing to consider, among many others: You might technically be poor, even if you don’t view yourself that way.

Britannica Dictionary defines poor as not having enough money to fund basic items that one needs “to live properly.” According to that definition, it isn’t unreasonable to say that seemingly well-off Americans who rack up credit card debt and high-interest personal loans to purchase items they both want and need are technically poor.

Mindfully American analyzed statistics to gather some of the biggest misconceptions Americans have about poverty in the United States.

1: Size Matters

Woman holding her stomach fat.
Photo Credit: Anatta_Tan via

It’s a common misconception that to be poor, you must be thin. But between junk food often being cheaper than healthy food and food assistance programs in the U.S., many Americans are poor and overweight.

A study on obesity and poverty revealed that the most poverty-dense counties in the U.S. have the highest rates of obesity. Americans living in counties with poverty rates greater than 35% have obesity rates that are 145% higher than people living in wealthy counties.

2: Poor Is Blind

Photo Credit: thakala via

Just because an American doesn’t label themselves as poor doesn’t mean they aren’t. Between 2022 and 2023, debt in the U.S. grew by $800 million, including a 16.6% growth in credit card debt, which has notoriously high interest rates.

Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, you’re better off not buying that brand-new boat the month after purchasing a brand-new truck that your neighbors used to carry home a seemingly infinite number of shiny new appliances.

At the end of the day, your neighbors may be struggling to keep up with their monthly debt payments or, worse, falling behind with them.

3: Middle-Class Conundrums

Parents reading with their child.
Photo Credit: Prostock-studio via

As of 2021, 50% of Americans had a middle-class title. That’s down from 61% in 1971, which is due to an increase in people entering both the lower and upper-income classes.

Nevertheless, the title “middle class” could arguably be the leading cause of Americans’ misconceptions about poverty. The reason? The data used to determine middle-class status is based on one’s size-adjusted household income. As of 2022, the income for a single person to be considered middle class is anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000 per year.

However, where one lives in the U.S., their financial commitments, and the amount of debt they owe could make them fall into the low-income bracket even though their income doesn’t make it appear that way.

4: The Poor Are Lazy

Cashier at fast food restaurant.
Photo Credit: BlueSkyImages via

Yes, there are lazy low-income people. Middle-income and upper-income people can be lazy, too. The concept of the poor being poor because they’re lazy is often misguided.

According to Statista data from 2021, single adults making minimum wage must work 61 hours per week to stay above the poverty line. When adding two kids living in a household to the mix, two adults need to work full-time to avoid falling into poverty.

Keep in mind these numbers are to just remain hovering above the poverty line, although how expensive the area where one lives also plays a role. The bottom line? Some people work substantially more hours than a standard 40-hour week and still struggle with being in poverty.

5: Middle Class Can’t Become Poor

Pile of credit cards.
Photo Credit: Africa Studio via

Here’s some tough news to swallow: Many middle-class people are closer to poverty than they are to being wealthy.

It’s all too easy for the middle class to slip into poverty, especially if people in a household don’t follow a budget. Thirty-six percent of Americans have more credit card debt than they do money in an emergency fund.

Without having a fully funded emergency fund, which is typically three to six months’ worth of living expenses, the loss of a job, a medical issue, and other unexpected expenses can throw a formerly middle-class household into poverty.

6: Paycheck to Paycheck

Photo Credit: ronstik via

Living paycheck to paycheck is far from comfortable. However, some Americans are under the impression that living paycheck to paycheck is only for the poor. That’s just not true.

Since 1970, middle-class households haven’t seen nearly as much increase in overall income as people in upper-income households. The result is that an increasing number of Americans in the middle class are scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck.

7: Being Poor Is Easy

Photo Credit: via

If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking that people in poverty have it easy because of government assistance, ask yourself this: Would you accept an offer to trade places with one of those individuals?

As Talk Poverty published, being poor is exhausting, and despair and feelings of desperation are common among low-income people.

8: Work Harder

Photo Credit: Stephen VanHorn via

The concept that if the poor worked harder, they wouldn’t be in poverty is a common misconception that isn’t true for many low-income people.

Aside from the poor often working longer hours like we already established, sometimes going to school or working harder isn’t as easy or life-saving as it may seem. Medical bills, physical or mental limitations, childcare, and other factors can hinder a person’s ability to work harder no matter how hard they try to raise themselves above the poverty line.

9: Individual vs System

Capitol building, Washington DC.
Photo Credit: Moritz Wussow via

A mistake many Americans make is placing all blame about poverty either on low-income people or on the government. The side of the political aisle one stands on often influences this. 

However, in some cases, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Regardless, according to Pew Research Center, approximately 65% of Americans believe it’s the government’s responsibility to guarantee all citizens food and shelter.

10: The Poor Should Eat Anything

Photo Credit: kuarmungadd via

Talk to any food bank volunteer, and you’ll likely hear a complaint along these lines: It’s not okay to donate expired food to food banks.

Unfortunately, many Americans believe the poor should be grateful for any food they receive, including the can of baked beans that’s been sitting in the back of their pantry for five years.

So, the next time you want to donate to a food shelter, put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be eating your food; if you wouldn’t want to eat it, don’t donate it.

11: Substance Abuse Is the Issue

Photo Credit: Gizmo via

Research has shown that substance abuse among people in poverty is higher than among those with higher economic status. Nevertheless, substance abuse isn’t the cause of all poverty, nor is it the reason keeping many Americans from rising above it.

If you’ve ever caught yourself falling into the common thought process that the person you pass on the street must be poor because of substance abuse, remind yourself this: The loss of a job or a house fire can force some people from having a home to living on the streets in the blink of an eye.

12: Earning Your Circumstances

Photo Credit: zabavna via

The concept that having a middle or upper-class income is because of something one earned can be damaging to people in poverty. Yes, it’s true that many financially well-off people worked hard to earn what they have. It’s also true that, try as they might, many poor people can’t easily earn their way out of their circumstances.

People born into poverty often don’t have the same opportunities as middle-class and wealthy children. Many people have situations beyond their control, including disabilities, trauma, and environmental circumstances.

13: Gifts of Money

Woman holding a $1 bill.
Photo Credit: ERNESTO via

Not giving the poor cash because you’re afraid of them spending it on alcohol or other substances is a common misconception. While this may be the case in some circumstances, it’s unfair to say that all poor people will spend gifts of money poorly.

According to Innovations for Poverty Action, gifting money to people in poverty around the world can help them invest in their future, such as having the means to seek job prospects.

14: All Americans Are Rich

Business man adjusting his tie.
Photo Credit: Alona Dudaieva via

As someone who’s traveled abroad for over a decade, I can’t tell you the number of times that people commented to me about how wealthy I must be since I’m American.

Needless to say, surprise always follows when I tell them about the struggles our country has with poverty and homelessness, not to mention that the middle class often feels far from rich.

15: Poor Look

Photo Credit: via

We’ve already established that a person can look well-off but be poor because of their debt. The opposite is true, too; some Americans look poor but are wealthy.

A person who works a standard job, chooses a minimalist lifestyle, and starts saving for retirement early on in life sets themselves up for a comfortable life finance-wise that’s the antithesis of poor.

16: Poor Hygiene

Photo Credit: Sergey Ryzhov via

Being poor doesn’t automatically equate someone to having bad hygiene. Plenty of people aren’t poor financially but are poor on the hygiene front.

17: Food Stamps Are Easy

Photo Credit: Anton via

Getting government support for low-income aid like food stamps and unemployment is far from easy, despite what many wealthier people believe.

People often have to spend a lot of time on the phone and filling out paperwork to get approved for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). There’s also a lot of follow-up work involved to continually show that one is still in need of assistance.

18: Can’t Have Nice Things

Photo Credit: simona via

Many Americans believe the poor shouldn’t have anything nice. The issue? Many poor and homeless people didn’t start out that way; getting laid off, losing their house to a fire, and massive medical bills can all send people into the poor category.

So, if you see a person in poverty with a seemingly out-of-place nice item, remember that they may have nice jewelry, a good car, etc., from when they were more financially well off.

19 Things the Middle Class Won’t Be Able To Afford in 5 Years

Photo Credit: wavebreak3 via

If current financial trends continue, middle-class Americans may find things they used to afford unattainable. These are the troubling things that will likely become more difficult to afford in the next five years.

19 Things the Middle Class Won’t Be Able To Afford in 5 Years

9 Times in History When Gas Prices Spiked to Crazy High Levels

Photo Credit: sheilaf2002 via

The frustration you feel when pulling up to the pump and seeing a higher price is nothing new. Gas prices have had peaks and valleys since World War II, and they’ve disrupted Americans’ lives many times. 

9 Times in History When Gas Prices Spiked to Crazy High Levels

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *