The Soaring Costs of Poverty

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Life is unpredictable. There are a million things that can – and do – go wrong. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, like 63% of Americans do, there is no safety net. Any small bump in the road can be the catalyst for a major disaster. The smallest crisis can easily become the thing that brings it all down, like a house of cards.
 
Let’s say your budget only allows for you to put $5 of gas in your tank each pay period, which is just enough for you to make it to work and back…and then the price of gas increases. You still have to get to work, so you have to find somewhere else to get that money.
 
Or maybe you lost your job because of the pandemic, and your savings are gone. You get a job interview, but when you show up, the only parking available requires payment. You spent your last $2.36 on gas and can’t afford to pay for parking, so you cross your fingers and hope for the best. Then your car gets towed. You certainly can’t afford to pay the fee to get it back. Even a high-cost payday loan isn’t an option because you don’t have a job.
 
These scenarios aren’t unusual or unlikely. Poverty comes with a steep premium – in stress, time, and money – every day.
 
With soaring temperatures, people stuck at home because they are unemployed or working remotely will depend on their air conditioners more than ever. But individuals living near the poverty line spend an average of 9% of their budget on energy bills – triple that of middle- and upper-income households. Rent prices across Utah have continued to rise nearly every single year over the past decade. A stunning 1 in 5 Utah renters are considered “severely cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 50% of their income on rent.
 
And that’s before you look at the cost of transportation. To buy groceries, commute to work, go to school, visit the doctor’s office, or pick up any medication you or your family might need, you need a way to get there. But if you make minimum wage, owning a car can take more than half of your annual income once you pay for gas, insurance, tires, registration, and maintenance.
 
If housing and utilities can take 60% of your paycheck and owning a car can take another 50%, the numbers simply don’t add up. Far too many of our neighbors are living in the red. And that’s before you look at necessities like food, which has jumped in price by nearly a third over the past year.
 
It’s nearly impossible to address all the costs associated with poverty, certainly not in one blog post. The challenges are many, and there is no one solution, but when you give to Utah Food Bank, you join the fight against hunger statewide and help lessen the burden for our food-insecure neighbors.

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