COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – Making ends meet and living with in your means seem unavoidably wed to each other, but if the former becomes a struggle, as many are finding these days, the later, as detailed in a report on what working Ohio families need to just keep pace with their lives without need for public or private assistance, doesn’t auger well for many Ohioans, and should be a wake up call to both elected and business leaders.
In the report The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Ohio 2011, conducted by The Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work for the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, author Diana M Pearce, PhD, details how much income a family of a certain composition in a given place must earn to meet their basic needs. Dr. Pearce, who developed the Self-Sufficiency Standard while she was the Director of the Women and Poverty Project at Wider Opportunities for Women, said employers, advocates, and legislators can use it to
evaluate wages, provide career counseling, and create programs that lead to self-sufficiency for working families.
Pearce writes that her Self-Sufficiency Standard is a “measure of economic security that is based on the costs of six basic needs for working families: housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, and miscellaneous items as well as the cost of taxes and the impact of tax credits.”
The report guides readers through a description of what a self-sufficient wage is for Ohio families and how it differs depending on family type and geographic area. The report compares the Ohio Standard to other places in the United States, demonstrates how the Standard has changed in Ohio over time, and compares the Ohio Standard to other commonly used benchmarks of income.
From the Executive Summary
“In Ohio the amount needed to be economically self-sufficient varies considerably by geographic location. For instance, the annual amount needed to make ends meet for a family with one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child varies from $31,412 per year in Darke County (172% of the Federal Poverty Level, or FPL) to $49,632 in Warren County (271% of the FPL).
“The Standard also varies by family type, such as how many adults and children are in a family and the age of each child. One adult living in Montgomery County needs a monthly income of $1,490 to meet basic needs. If the adult has a preschooler and a school-age child, the amount necessary to be economically secure increases to $3,757 per month in order to cover the cost of child care, a larger housing unit, and increased food and health care costs. For families with young children, the cost of housing and child care combined typically make up at least 50% of the family’s budget.
“Despite the recession, the cost of meeting basic needs has increased since 2008 in Ohio. Furthermore, just one of Ohio’s 10 most common occupations — registered nurses — pays median earnings that are above the Self-Sufficiency Standard for a one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child family in Cuyahoga County.”
The long and winding road forward
For a state like Ohio, which has lost 600,000 or more jobs just last decade, and whose population has faltered enough that it will lose two congressional seats, the road to recover will indeed be a long and winding one. For most workers across the state, the report concludes, the Self-Sufficiency Standard shows that earnings well above the official Federal Poverty Level are nevertheless far below what is needed to meet the basic needs of Ohio families.
Pearce writes that long-term economic prosperity will require responsible planning that puts all Ohioans on the path to self-sufficiency. “A strong economy will mean good jobs that pay Self-Sufficiency Standard wages and a workforce with the skills necessary to fill those jobs,” she said, noting that the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Ohio 2011 defines the income needed to realistically support a family, without public or private assistance.
Although public benefits may not be needed if the Self-Sufficiency Standard is high enough, Pearce doesn’t rule out the fact that public won’t be needed. “For workers with wages below the Self Sufficiency Standard, public subsidies for high-cost necessities such as child care, health care,and housing are critical to meeting basic needs, retaining jobs and advancing in the workforce,” she says. adding that by utilizing the Self-Sufficiency Standard, “Ohio has the opportunity to lay the foundation towards a strong workforce and thriving communities.”
Included in Pearce’s methodology for The Standard is that adults work 8 hours per day for 22 days per month and 12 months per year. Moreover, no cable television, fast-food meals or vacations are factored in, although Pearce does include child-care costs.
Poverty in Ohio on the rise
The official poverty rate in 2009 for Ohio was 15.2 percent, a big increase from ten years earlier when it ducked below 10 percent. It’s now similar to where it was in 1994.
The number of Ohioans in the past decade who are poor grew by a whopping 46.1 percent, to 539,000 people, the Dayton Daily News reported, during a time when Ohio’s population remained virtually unchanged. Dr. Pearce’s report says that Ohioans need 170 percent to 270 percent of the official poverty-level income to take care of themselves. The study puts about a third of all Ohioans, 3.7 million, below the self-sufficiency level. Approximately 2 million out of a total population of 11.5 million Ohioans reside between the poverty and self-sufficiency levels.
“Bad things have come together seemingly all at once: jobs have disappeared; wages have shrunk; governments have cut back,” DDN editorialized.
“The people who have been hurt most have been those who were already hurting the most. And the effects have not been marginal, but dramatic.”
In the coming weeks and months, as Republican Gov. John Kasich’s first biennial budget wends its way through the Ohio Senate, having been passed last week by the Ohio House, the tale of the tape will be whether it doles out short term pain as a prerequisite for long term gain, or whether the pain of big funding cuts to local governments, schools and other beneficiary groups takes root for years to come.
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