If rich ain't that rich, how poor must one be to be "poor?" Let's stipulate from the outset that very, very few people in this country are poor by international standards--lacking basic housing and nutrition. And there is a pretty decent safety net for those people. Not perfect, mind you, but OK. A family of 4 is below the poverty line at around $20,000. No doubt, that's poor--but those guys will get medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing--they'll never be well-off, but they won't starve. (We'll leave for another day why someone would have a family income that low if they actually go to work every day.) But what about the family making double, even triple the poverty line number: 40 to 60k? In my town, If you make $52,000 a year (that's $1000 a week), that'll come out to about $3500 spendable a month. That same family of 4 will pay $800-1100 for rent, or more like $1500 for a small house in this town. You'd think if you make over $50k you'd want to try to be a homeowner. One car payment, plus gas and insurance, and you're down to $1500 left. If you have to buy your own health plan, you can't do that and still feed a family of 4 on that. If your car is paid for, your company buys your health plan, you don't tithe, and you have bought your house back before the market went stupid, you can be pretty comfortable on $50k. But change just one or two of those variables, and the fridge is empty leading up to payday. And forget private schools or vacations. I know my family of 5 would have a very hard time making ends meet on that--and we're pretty frugal. And of course, that family qualifies for no help, even though they may have two earners scratching and clawing every week while the "welfare poor" family may have less than one full-time job. Fair, huh?
Now again, don't get me wrong--I'm not advocating that the family making $50k necessarily get welfare (after all, somebody has to pay for that). But it seems to me that we have a very skewed idea of what constitutes "middle class."