The Self Sufficiency Standard for New York: How Much Do New Yorkers Really Need to Make Ends Meet?

September 13, 2000. Today, the members of the New York State Self-Sufficiency Standard Steering Committee released the Self Sufficiency Standard for New York report in Albany. The report is authored by Dr. Diana Pearce who currently teaches at the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, Seattle. Dr. Pearce has developed these Standards for 12 other states.

Full report here, county-by county standards here. Executive summary, press release and committee members below. Also see the article in the New York Times, Family Needs Far Exceed the Official Poverty Line.

Executive summary

How much income do families need to cover their costs? How do we know if public policies help or hurt families chances of meeting their basic needs? Which jobs pay high enough wages to cover work-related expenses such as child care, transportation and taxes along with other basic necessities?

These critical questions can be answered using an innovative tool called the Self-Sufficiency Standard. The Standard measures how much income is needed, for a family of a given composition in a given place, to adequately meet its basic needs – without public or private assistance.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York contains estimates of the monthly and hourly “self-sufficiency” wage for 8 family types in 64 separate jurisdictions. The complete report, calculates “self-sufficiency” wages for 70 family types for each county in the state. Separate estimates are included for upper and lower Manhattan and Yonkers.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York is calculated using a methodology that has been utilized by Dr. Pearce and Wider Opportunity for Women to calculate self-sufficiency standards for 12 other jurisdictions, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

The Standard uses the best available estimates of the specific costs of providing food, housing, child care, transportation and health care. For costs such as housing, health care and child care, for which there is significant geographical variation, county-specific cost estimates are used. For example, housing costs outside New York City are based on the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Market Rents while the cost of child care is estimated using the rates set by the Market Rate Survey conducted last year by the New York State Office of Children and Family. Outside New York City, for a single parent family with two preschool children, monthly self-sufficiency wage requirements range from $5,044 per month in Nassau and Suffolk Counties to $2,501 per month in Otsego County. If we assume full-time work, these translate into hourly wage requirements of $28.66 and $14.21 respectively.

For all jurisdictions in New York State, the self-sufficiency standard documents that families require incomes significantly higher than the federal poverty thresholds to meet basic needs. The federal poverty threshold for a family of three anywhere in the state (anywhere in the country for that matter) is $14,150. In Albany County, the annual income requirements for three-person single parent families calculated using the self-sufficiency standard range from $21,900 for a parent with two older children to $34,848 for a parent with two children using child care.

While both the Self-Sufficiency Standard and the official poverty measure assess income adequacy, the Standard differs from the official poverty measure in several important ways:

  • the Standard explicitly incorporates the costs of working: transportation and child care;
  • the Standard takes into account that many costs differ not only by family size and composition, but also by the age of the children;
  • the Standard incorporates regional and local variations in costs;
  • the Standard includes the net effect of taxes and tax credits;
  • the Standard is based on the costs of each basic need considered separately.

The report also includes an analysis of the ways in which low-income families may be able to close the gap between basic needs and income, including child support, subsidized health care coverage and various other public subsidies. The report shows that the receipt of child care assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid can reduce the hourly self-sufficiency wage requirement for a single parent family with two pre-school children living in Albany County from $16.38 an hour to $5.18. The report illustrates the dramatic impact that these and other public supports can have on the ability of families to meet basic needs.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York State is being distributed by the New York State Self-Sufficiency Steering Committee. A companion report, The Self-Sufficiency Standard for the City of New York, is being released by the The Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement and Wider Opportunities for Women.

Press release

The NYS Self-Sufficiency Standard, unlike the federal poverty standard, charts the actual cost of living and working in each county of New York State. It measures how much a family must earn in order to pay for housing, food, childcare, taxes, health care and other basic necessities. It is based on the ages and number of children in each household, and the county in which the person resides.

“The report is the first of its kind in New York State to provide a realistic assessment of what families actually need to earn to be self-sufficient,” stated Ron Deutsch, Executive Director of SENSES. “We need to use this report as a springboard for realistic public policy measures that have positive impacts on our states’ families.”

“The Self-Sufficiency Standard provides us with a wonderful new tool. Since it takes into account the differences in the cost of living across the state and considers both the costs of living and working, it is a much better gauge of income adequacy for New York’s working families than the current federal poverty thresholds,” stated Dr. Trudi Renwick of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

In the 12 states where standards have been developed it has been used to evaluate economic development proposals, evaluate the impact of proposed policy changes, target education and job training investments, as a counseling tool and as a benchmark for evaluation. For example, The Self-Sufficiency Standard has recently been adopted by the Philadelphia and Chicago Workforce Investment Boards to define “self-sufficiency.”

Russell Simon, Senior Policy Associate of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals said “This Self-Sufficiency Standard will provide a valuable tool to the 33 local workforce investment areas across New York State for assisting individuals and  families in working toward their economic goals. With the implementation of the federal Workforce Investment Act, local Workforce Investment Boards should consider using the data in this report to establish self-sufficiency goals that reflect local conditions and target resources to help underemployed and unemployed workers meet the financial needs of their families.”

“In this, the best of economic times, 25% of New York’s children are growing up in poverty. The heartbreaking truth is that the majority of these children live in families where their parents work very hard,” said Elie Ward, Executive Director of Statewide Youth Advocacy. “We hope that the release of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York State will help our state leaders, in both the public and private sectors, better understand what it takes to raise a family. And that this information will encourage them to design policies and programs that support the hard working families across our state.”

“In a society that emphasizes the value of work and on the heels of sweeping work-based welfare reform, the self-sufficiency standard is a critical tool for demonstrating that far too many families, who are holding up their end of the social contract by working, still have earnings that leave them well below what is essential to meet their basic needs,” stated Rus Sykes of the State Communities Aid Association. “In that context, the self-sufficiency standard can guide policymakers in establishing fair wage policies and designing educational and employment and training programs aimed at building suitable skills for higher wage employment. But for the many families, who because of entry level wages, lower skills and other obstacles, will not attain economic independence quickly, this study clearly demonstrates the critical need for government support services for child care and health coverage, adequate child support and tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that can help in the interim to ‘fill the gap’ between earnings and the self-sufficiency standard.”

“The road to self-sufficiency is not an easy one. The cost of health insurance, child care, and housing can make it seem impossible to obtain. It has taken me a while to reach the level of independence that I am now at, and I never would gotten there if it weren’t for the assistance of programs such as the Women’s Employment and Resource Center, Career Central, Section 8, Child Care through the Department of Social Services, and also my current employer,” stated Pam Hallenbeck a housing counselor in Albany.

According to Sandra McGarraugh of Thalia Training and Consulting, “The importance of providing access to education and training, particularly to technical programs offered through community colleges, is underscored by the self sufficiency standard data. Technical training can mean the difference between making a self-sufficiency wage and just getting by with continuing subsidized support. For low-income women, many of whom are single parents, the associate degree programs offered at the community college level are critical ladders to self-sufficiency. The difference between the earnings of an entry level unskilled worker (average $6 hour) and that of a skilled technician ($15 -$20 hour) is the key to maintaining a livable family wage at a self sufficiency level. Further, the high/skill and high/wage potential jobs available with the postsecondary training provide opportunities for continuing skill development and career advancement, which support families in achieving a economically secure lifestyle over time.”

The report’s author, Dr. Diana Pearce, will be in Albany on Thursday, September 14th and will be available for one-on-one interviews. Dr. Pearce will also be giving an informational forum on September 14th at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State Street, Albany from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. Dr. Pearce teaches at the School of Social Work, University of Washington in Seattle. She is recognized for coining the phrase “the feminization of poverty.” Dr. Pearce founded and directed the Women and Poverty Project at Wider Opportunities for Women in Washington D.C. If you would like to schedule a time to meet with Dr. Pearce, please contact either Ron Deutsch or Christine McKenna at SENSES.

Representatives of SENSES, FPI and Thalia Training and Consulting will be conducting informational forums across the state: September 25th in Buffalo and Rochester, September 26th in Ithaca and Syracuse, September 27th in Utica, and October 12th in New York City.

Members of the NYS Self-Sufficiency Standard Steering Committee:

  • Susan Antos, Greater Upstate Law Project
  • Ron Deutsch, Statewide Emergency Network for Social and Economic Security, Co-chair
  • Mark Dunlea, Hunger Action Network of NYS
  • Suzanne Garhart, Workforce Development Institute, Hudson Valley Community College
  • David Hamilton, NYS Catholic Conference
  • Lois Johnson, Women’s Employment and Resource Center
  • Dan Maskin, NYS Community Action Association
  • Ann Mattei, Adult Literacy and Workforce Preparation Team, NYS Education Department
  • Sandra McGarraugh, NYS Career Options Institute, Co-chair
  • Christine McKenna, Statewide Emergency Network for Social and Economic Security
  • Merble Reagon, Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement
  • Trudi Renwick, Fiscal Policy Institute
  • Russ Simon, NY Association of Training and Employment Professionals
  • Rus Sykes, State Communities Aid Association
  • Scott Trees, Siena College
  • Elie Ward, Statewide Youth Advocacy
  • Agnes Zellin, NYS Child Care Coordinating Council
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