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ID New Beginnings

Impoverished/Homeless Americans

Identifying those who are often left behind

In the United States, those who experience poverty tend to live in clusters. Non-metro counties with the most severe poverty are “found in historically poor areas of the Southeast, including the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia, as well as on Native American lands.” Increasingly, there are also pockets of high poverty in the Southwest and North Central Midwest.

In 2016, 14% of the U.S. population had income below the poverty level, while the poverty rate for Puerto Rico was 46.1%. In 2014, 10% of people aged 65 and older lived in poverty. As of the 2010 census, 10.8% of people aged 15 to 64 with severe disabilities experienced persistent poverty.

On a single night in 2016, nearly 550,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. The majority of those who are experiencing homeless reside in California, New York, and Florida. 

For those experiencing economic insecurity, obtaining documentation in order to apply for an ID can be challenging in and of itself, particularly for those who have moved outside of their birth state or were born outside of the U.S. mainland. In addition, “fees charged to obtain legal documents, such as a birth certificate, a Social Security card, and the state ID card, add up to more than many can pay.” 

To apply for government-issued photo ID, most states “require multiple proofs of identity or permanent residence, such as utility bills, Social Security cards or birth certificates. Some states require proof of homelessness, such as a letter from a social services agency.” Applying for a photo ID may be cost-prohibitive for those experiencing homelessness, and ironically, “many homeless people are denied access to benefits and services when they lack photo identification.”

Many cities, states, municipalities, and service organizations offer certified birth certificates and/or non-driver ID cards free of charge for those that are experiencing homelessness. Service organizations and religious institutions across the country also assist individuals with the application process and cover associated fees for obtaining documents and government-issued photo IDs.