breadline

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be on the breadline

To be very poor, as if one could (or does) rely on food donations to survive. A "breadline" is a line of people seeking food distributed by a charitable or government agency. If I don't make a big sale this week, my family will be on the breadline. Sure, we have money now, but my grandmother grew up in a family that was on the breadline and lived in public housing.
See also: breadline, on

on the breadline

People who are living on the breadline are extremely poor. Too many men have children and then forget about them — leaving the children and the mothers living on the breadline. They should be stripped of everything they own but the bare essentials. Let them feel what it is like to be on the breadline. Note: You can use the breadline to mean a level of income where it is just possible to live. Obviously I'd want to earn enough to keep me above the breadline. Families scraping a living on low incomes and benefits are already living below the breadline. Note: In times of hardship, particularly in the 19th century in the United States, poor people used to line up outside bakeries or soup kitchens for free or very cheap bread.
See also: breadline, on

below the breadline

Extremely poor.
See also: below, breadline

on the breadline

Dependent on public donations of food.
See also: breadline, on