Under America's 'President for jobs', 40 million people still live below the poverty line


Under the Presidency of Donald Trump, employment and economic growth figures have improved in the US. But at the other end of the spectrum, 40 million people now find themselves living below the poverty line.

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Under the leadership of US President Donald Trump, the country has its lowest unemployment rate in 50 years and continues to record economic growth. Yet despite the positive figures, nearly one in 10 people live below the poverty line as the cost of living continues to rise.

This year Trump’s government revealed the unemployment rate plummeted to 3.6 per cent, the lowest rate since 1969 following his campaign promises to boost employment across the country.

“We’re going to have job growth like you’ve never seen. I’m very good for jobs,” President Trump said while campaigning in 2016. “In fact, I will be the greatest president for jobs that God ever created. That I can tell you.”

But against the promising economic signs, the US Census Bureau figures released in late 2018 revealed between 40 million Americans are living below the poverty line.

Across large swathes of the country, the cost of living in cities is rising at its fastest rate in a decade, while the minimum wage set by US congress has remained at $7.25 per hour since 2009.

A further 28 million people live without health care, while 40 million people rely on government-funded food stamps to eat.

So how has the number of poor grown in one of the world’s richest countries?

Where basic rent costs more than people earn

In San Diego California, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the seaside city raced towards $1,559USD ($2,235 AUD) per month after years of high growth. Though it proved a boon for landlords, at the other end of the scale, many residents have been priced out of the market.

Fifty-four-year-old Maria  is one of 30 people who park their car overnight in a San Diego Bay car park. Every night, she lays out her bed for the night, sleeping with a can of pepper spray by her side for protection. Each morning she packs up her bed, tidies her van and begins her day.

“I have seen people with their cars so messy and things all over the place,” she says. “How can I go to work with my life like that? It has to have a little order, you know?

“It’s not that perfect, but it’s the way I want, and it makes me feel better.”

Maria lives in her car
Maria is a cleaner and a carer. Work that she does seven days a week.

Priced out of the housing market from a sudden divorce, the cost to rent a one bedroom apartment is the same as her earnings. With few options, her car became her home, while she uses a gym for its facilities.

“I had to take this decision because I had no place to shower,” she says.

“One time I didn’t shower for a week. It feels terrible, let me tell you. You feel like a homeless person. Stinky. So I thought what should I be doing and I thought: “Ah! A gym!” So I came here.”

On the other side of the country in Richmond Virginia, harsh eviction laws are pushing those on the fringes out to a life of uncertainty.

Budget hotels on the outskirts of the city have become a refuge for those who have been kicked out of their homes.

David, a 38-year-old divorced father of two moved into a motel two years ago. He pays over $1450USD (2,100AUD) per month for his 10m2 where his children join him on weekends.  

“In a situation like this, if you’re depressed and you sit in one little room by yourself a lot, you end up drinking or doing something stupid.”

David shares the small hotel room with his children on weekends.
David shares the small hotel room with his children on weekends.

With economic growth continuing under Trump, these should be jubilant times for many in the country. But with the cost of living rising and food stamps for many under threat, how will Americans respond for the 2020 elections?

“When you have the best economy, we’ve ever had, I don’t know how the hell you’d lose this election?” Trump said at a recent rally in Pennsylvania.

The times are proving prosperous for many Americans under Trump. While for others, the day-to-day struggle is intensifying.