How much money is enough in Yuma County?
In Yuma County, a single mom with two young children — one attending school and the second preschool-aged — must earn at least $41,151 per year, or $19.48 per hour, to adequately meet the family's basic needs without public or private assistance.
According to a new report, many workers in Arizona have earnings that fall far short of what's needed to meet basic family needs, even if their income is well above the official federal poverty guidelines.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Arizona 2012 notes that for Yuma County, it's $9.21 for a single adult, $15.84 for an adult with a preschooler, $19.48 for an adult with a preschooler and a school-age child, and $11.57 for two adults with a preschooler and a school-age child (each adult must earn the hourly wage to meet the family's basic needs).
The report provides a detailed county-by-county breakdown of the income families of 70 different configurations need to make ends meet in all 15 Arizona counties.
This self-sufficiency standard reflects the costs of housing, child care, food, health care, transportation and taxes, the impact of tax credits and miscellaneous items such as telephone service, clothing and non-prescription medications.
It documents the degree to which public supports, such as child-care assistance and KidsCare, enable families to meet their basic needs while moving toward self-sufficiency.
The report reveals that financial hardship in Arizona is more widespread and severe than the federal government's official poverty rate statistics would suggest, according to Laura Penny, executive director of the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona, which funded and commissioned the report from the University of Washington School of Social Work.
In Yuma County, “a single adult could earn $9.21 an hour and barely meet his or her basic needs. We're talking bare bones: $254 in food a month, less than $10 a day. That means no designer coffees, no dining out, no takeout,” she noted.
Although Yuma County is among the least expensive counties in Arizona for an adult with a preschooler, the report shows the cost of child care consumes a large chunk of a person's salary once they have a child.
“Child care is expensive,” Penny said. “You can go from being a single adult getting by with $9.21 an hour, add an infant and a preschooler, and somebody would have to make $19.48 an hour to cover the basics likes housing, food, transportation, health care, and the reason is children.”
She pointed out that a single parent will pay more for child care than for housing since a two-bedroom apartment and utilities will cost $732 and child care $1,012.
“I think people will look at this number and go wow, $41,000 a year just to cover the basic needs.”
Pointing out the cost breakdowns for housing, child care, food, etc., Penny noted many families aren't making enough money but they're “making do and finding ways to manage.”
They're at a point where they don't qualify for public assistance yet they rely on food banks and food pantries and help from churches, she said.
“Families have learned to patch together a system of child care.”
Penny believes the report offers a more realistic measurement of the income needed to meet basic needs than the federal poverty guidelines. This is due to shortcomings in the federal guidelines, which adjust for family size but not for other key factors including where a family lives or the age of their children.
The federal poverty limit for a family of three is a little bit over $19,000. “But just because someone is making $20,000 doesn't mean they're not poor. They're still desperately poor, but they earn too much money to quality for benefits to keep their heads above water,” she said.
“We tend to see people below the poverty line as needing help and those above it as not requiring assistance,” said Diana Pearce, author of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Arizona 2012 and director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
“In reality, with flat wages and increasing costs, more and more families are struggling to survive. Even though they are working hard, they still can't make ends meet.”
The goal of the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona is to help women become self-sufficient through a number of strategies, such as debt reduction, credit repair and job training. Penny said the foundation commissioned the study because “one day we asked, what does it really mean (to be self-sufficient)? Our goal is for women to be self-sufficient with no government support, but really, how much money is that?”
The University of Washington had already studied the standard of living in other states, including Arizona 10 years ago.
How does Arizona compare with 10 years ago? “We've gotten worse,” Penny said. “Over the past 10 years, costs have risen about 31 percent but wages have only risen about 19 percent. There's a gap there.”
In Yuma County, the self-sufficiency standard increased between 27 and 29 percent.
Penny's hope is that “folks will look at the report and point it out to young women and tell them, ‘If you have a child, you will need to get a job that makes … It's a wake-up call for some young women.”
She also believes the report shows there's room for policy changes in Arizona. “This year Arizona slammed the door to enrollment in subsidized childcare programs and KidsCare. They've since opened it up a crack, but we would like to have the Legislature take a look at it when it reconvenes,” Penny said.
She would also like the counties to exam the report. “It makes no sense to give tax credits for companies to move to Yuma when the companies pay wages so low employees qualify for AHCCCS (Arizona's Medicaid). They lose anything they might have gained.”
The complete Self-Sufficiency Standard for Arizona 2012 report can be found online at www.womengiving.org.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.