New research shows the true cost of living and provides tools to help lift people out of poverty
Many workers throughout Colorado have earnings that fall far short of what's needed to meet basic family needs, even if their income is well above what the federal government classifies as poor, new research shows.
The research is the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2011, a detailed accounting of the cost of living for different family types in each of the state's 64 counties. The report shows financial hardship is much more widespread that what is suggested in the federal government's official poverty rate, which stands at 12.3 percent, according to numbers released in September.
Income thresholds that make up the federal poverty level are adjusted for family size but not for other key factors including the age of children or where the family lives. The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado offers a more realistic measurement of the income needed to meet basic needs such as food and housing. For example, the federal poverty level says a two-person family living anywhere in the 48 contiguous states is living in poverty if its income is lower than $14,710.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard, by contrast, relies on a range of authoritative data to show an Adams County family with one adult and one preschooler needs annual income of $45,971 to make ends meet, more than three times the federal benchmark. The report offers similar findings for eight family types in each Colorado county.
"If we want to make real progress toward reducing poverty in Colorado, we need sophisticated tools and accurate measurements of what financial hardship actually looks like," said Tracey Stewart, manager of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy's Family Economic Security Program. "Our elected leaders and policymakers can use the Self-Sufficiency Standard as a benchmark to evaluate policy changes - do they move people toward long-term economic self-sufficiency or away from it?"
Among the main findings:
- In Colorado, the amount needed to be economically self-sufficient varies considerably by geographic location. For instance, the amount needed to make ends meet for one adult, one preschooler and one school-age child varies from $14.25 per hour in Kit Carson County to $31.54 per hour in Pitkin County.
- The amount needed to meet the costs of basic needs increased between 2001 and 2011 in all Colorado counties, despite the financial crisis.
- Of the top 10 most common occupations in Colorado (measured by the number of workers), only four have median wages above the Self-Sufficiency Standard.
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization seeking justice and economic security for all Coloradans.
Media contact: Perry Swanson, communications director
303-573-5669, ext. 306
Released Oct. 28, 2011