Calculating the Poverty Line

By Jordan Nickels | brownsville song (b-side for tray) is set in Brownsville, Brooklyn in New York City, considered by most a slum and dangerous neighborhood that lives under the poverty line. However, this is the neighborhood that the young characters, especially Tray and Devine, inhabit in this play.

Below is an educational resource provided by Teaching Tolerance that breaks down the definition of the poverty line and how it is depicted under the federal government:


The federal poverty line is used to determine individuals’ and families’ eligibility for particular kinds of aid and services and also is an important benchmark that helps the nation know how many Americans are struggling financially each year, and over time.

In 2012, the federal government set the poverty line for a family of four at $23,050. The figure is based on food costs — the government identifies how much it should cost to feed a family of four for one year and then multiplies that number by three. The formula has been used for decades.

What it fails to capture is this: In today’s America, food expenses represent just one-fifth of the average household budget, not a third. Other costs — housing, health care, childcare and transportation — typically eat up larger portions of a family’s budget.

Read the full lesson plan here:

Teaching Tolerance 

Founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving inter group relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.

Learn more about Teaching Tolerance here: 

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