Missouri’s poverty rate has been trending downwards in recent years, but still remains slightly higher than the national average.


In this guide, we will discuss the most recent data on Missouri poverty levels, as well as some of the factors that contribute to economic insecurity in the state.


We will also delve into some of the resources and assistance available for Missouri residents living under the poverty line.


What is the poverty level in Missouri?


According to recent data, over 800,000 out of Missouri’s approximately 6 million residents live in poverty.  The way poverty is calculated in Missouri, and in most parts of the United States, makes it an extreme condition for those living in it.


Let’s take a look at how poverty is defined in Missouri, and also at some of its implications.


How is the poverty level calculated in Missouri?


Like every other state, Missouri follows the federal guidelines when it comes to calculating poverty levels in the state.


Depending on the number of people in your household, if your total income for all members in the family falls below a certain threshold, then you’re considered to be under the federal poverty level.


In 2020, here are the federal income guidelines for calculating poverty.


  • Single individual –  $12,760
  • Family of 2 – $17,240 (typically a married couple with no children)
  • Family of 3 – $21,720 (married couple with one child)
  • Family of 4 – $26,200 (married couple with two children)
  • Family of 5 – $30,680

Annual income is calculated as your total income in the previous 12 months.


Average income in Missouri


According to recent census data, the median household income in Missouri was $53,560 in 2018. It was around $7,500 lower than the national average median household throughout the United States.

Implications of living under poverty in Missouri


For many people, the idea of a poverty line is something that is a conceptual, or a statistic. But if you’ve experienced poverty, you know that it is an extreme condition. It can have a significant impact on you, your family, as well as your community.


And if you don’t fall under the poverty line, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can make ends meet easily. This is especially true if you have children.


According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, families typically need an income that is twice the level of the poverty level to make ends meet.


Another thing to consider is that the federal poverty guidelines are national, and they don’t take into account the differences in the cost of living in each region.


According to the census bureau, the poverty line is meant to be a statistical yardstick, not an actual measure of income that a family needs to live with adequate means.


What are the factors driving poverty in Missouri?


According to Missourians to End Poverty, a coalition of government and faith-based agencies, as well as businesses and individuals, there are five key factors that contribute to poverty levels in Missouri.


  • Family and economic security
  • Access to education
  • Access to adequate nutrition
  • Access to healthcare services
  • Availability of affordable housing


According to a poverty report by Missourians to End Poverty, these different factors are interconnected when it comes to driving poverty.


For example, lack of access to proper housing can affect one’s health and nutrition, which could drive up healthcare costs, and cause financial insecurity.


The poverty report states that the factors that can drive down poverty in the state are robust social and welfare programs, organized community efforts to provide assistance to those in need, and thoughtful tax reform that enables adequate funding for safety net programs.


Minimum wage and poverty in Missouri


Some evidence suggests that the minimum wage regulations might also be a contributing factor to poverty levels in Missouri.


At the time of writing, the minimum wage in Missouri stands at $8.60 per hour.


But according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) living wage calculator, that number needs to be higher to address poverty in the state.


The MIT “living wage calculator” calculates the amount people would need to earn per hour to make a living wage in Missouri. They calculate their “living wage” numbers based on the assumption that someone works 40 hours per week.


“Living wage” is defined as an income that is adequate enough to provide for one’s basic needs in Missouri at a reasonable level.


Here are some examples of what would be an adequate wage in Missouri, according to MIT.


  • 1 adult with no children – $11.16
  • 1 adult with 1 child – $22.86
  • 2 adults with no children (only 1 adult working) – $18.42
  • 2 adults with 1 child (only 1 adult working) – $22.57
  • 2 adults with 1 child (both adults working) – $12.77
  • 2 adults with 2 children (both adults working) – $14.97


As we can see, in each scenario, MIT suggests that the necessary living wages are higher (in some cases significantly) than the current minimum wage of $8.60.


Also, we should note that the recommended wages are per working adult, and not combined for the entire household.


Now that we’ve explored some of the factors that are driving poverty in Missouri, let’s take a look at how it affects specific areas of life, such as food, healthcare, and housing.


Food insecurity in Missouri


According to Missourians to End Poverty, the state ranks 19th worst among 50 states when it comes to food insecurity. Approximately 14 percent of Missouri residents occasionally either run out of food, or the money to buy food.


In Missouri, approximately one out of five adults, and one out of six children may experience food insecurity.


And seniors fall among the fastest growing demographics who face food insecurity in Missouri. They are more susceptible to having higher healthcare costs, which can lead to economic issues, and not having adequate funds for proper nutrition.


Food insecurity is already a difficult situation. But unfortunately, it can also contribute to other conditions, like hypertension, obesity, and even diabetes.


It may seem counterintuitive that someone with food insecurity could end up with conditions typically associated with overeating. But not having access to nutritious food can also cause someone to overeat junk processed foods that often tend to be cheaper.


Among adults, a lack of adequate healthy nutrition can contribute to the following:


  • Overeating unhealthy foods
  • Anxiety
  • Depression symptoms
  • Negative pregnancy outcomes


Among children, a lack of adequate healthy nutrition can contribute to the following:


  • Cognitive issues
  • Increased risk of hospitalization
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression


If your family is facing food insecurity, there are options for you.


There are private charities like Feeding America that provide assistance to families in need of food.


You might also be able to qualify for help from the government through food stamps.

What are the income guidelines for food stamps in Missouri?


Here are the general guidelines to qualify for the food stamps program in Missouri.


  1. You must be a Missouri resident.
  2. You must be considered low income. Your household assets cannot exceed $2,250. Some assets, like the home where you live, your cars, prepaid burial plots, non-income producing property, etc, are not counted towards your asset limits.
  3. If everyone in your household is above the age of 60, then the limit is $3,500.


There are some other additional eligibility factors, like criminal history, etc. For detailed information, visit the Missouri Department of Social Services food stamps page.

What can I use my Missouri food stamps for?


If you’re approved for food stamps benefits in Missouri, your benefits will be based on USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan”, which is adjusted each year according to the Dept. of Labor’s study on the cost of food.


You can use food stamps to buy food, and also food products such as seeds to grow your own food.


You cannot use food stamps to purchase the following:


  • Cigarettes and other tobacco products
  • Alcohol
  • Hot prepared foods (restaurant pick-up, delivery, etc.)
  • Medications or dietary supplements
  • Non-food household items, including pet foods


Again, for detailed information, you can check out Missouri’s food stamp page.


Poverty and access to healthcare in Missouri


As we explained earlier, economic insecurity and lack of access to adequate nutrition can contribute to various health conditions, ranging from obesity, to hypertension, and beyond.


If you’re struggling with medical expenses in Missouri, check and see if you qualify for Medicaid. Also, if you don’t qualify, there is a way to “spend down” and to become eligible for Medicaid, as we will explain below.


What are the income guidelines for Medicaid in Missouri?


Missouri’s Medicaid program is known as MO HealthNet. It covers qualified medical costs for those that qualify.


Your MO HealthNet eligibility will be dependent on your age, income, and assets. Let’s take a look at these requirements:


  • You must have a net household income of less than $885 per month if single or widowed.
  • You must have a net household income of less than $1,198 per month if married.
  • Your assets cannot exceed $2,000 if single.
  • Your household assets cannot exceed $4,000 if married.


The income eligibility number is based on 85 percent of federal poverty line guidelines. So, it may change periodically.


Also, some of your assets, like your vehicle, personal items like jewelry, and your primary residence (as long as the equity value is less than a specified amount), don’t count towards your asset limits.


If your income are countable assets are above the limits to be eligible for Medicaid, you can still qualify through a spend down.


For detailed up-to-date information, including how to apply, visit MO HealthNet.


Eligibility via the spend-down deductible


If you earn more than the income limit to be eligible for Medicaid, you can qualify through a spend-down, which is similar to a deductible.


The income you earn above the eligibility level, you would spend it on medical and care expenses. Once you’ve used enough of your income to reach the limit for Medicaid, you would be able to qualify for the remainder of your care expenses.


Here is MO HealthNet’s page on spending down to qualify.


Additional benefits of qualifying for Medicaid in Missouri


One of the benefits for those who are living with disabilities in Missouri, and also qualify for Medicaid, is Consumer Directed Services (CDS).


CDS is funded by MO HealthNET. It provides for care services from a personal care attendant (PCA), allowing the care recipient to live in their own homes and communities, instead of the more restrictive environment in an institution.


The Consumer Directed Services program is administered by Missouri’s Division of Health and Senior and Services (DHSS).


Check out our detailed guide on CDS to learn about how to apply, what benefits are covered, and more.


What are the income guidelines for housing, and other welfare programs in Missouri?


Beyond food and healthcare, poverty can also affect various other areas of your life, and general wellbeing.


If you’re struggling with economic insecurity, we encourage you to explore some of the assistance options that are available to you as a Missouri resident.


Here are some resources to help you get started.


Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rental Assistance in MO


Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ownership Assistance in MO


Missouri Department of Social Services Cash Benefits to Low-Income Families


Final thoughts on Missouri poverty line


If you’re living in poverty in Missouri, or anywhere else, you know that it is an extreme condition that can affect every part of your family’s life. It can impact access to basic needs like housing, food, and healthcare.


If you fall under the poverty line, we encourage you to explore some of the benefits available in Missouri that we have listed in this article.


Programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and other assistance programs can offer much needed support and go a long way in providing some economic security for your family.


And always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to explore the resources listed here to contact the respective agencies about your eligibility for assistance programs.