More working families above federal poverty level cannot afford basic needs
HARRISBURG - One-fifth of the 3.4 million households in Pennsylvania lack adequate income to meet their basic needs, representing a large and diverse group of families experiencing distress. That's one of the findings from PathWays PA's latest study of the economic needs of the state's working families, Overlooked and Undercounted: Struggling to Make Ends Meet in Pennsylvania.
The first-ever study, done in partnership with the state Department of Labor and Industry, measured the number of families in economic distress using the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania. The Standard calculates the wages 70 different family configurations must earn to pay for basic necessities such as child care, nutritious food, adequate housing and health care in each of the state's 67 counties.
Based on real market costs, the Standard provides a more accurate portrait of economic distress than federal poverty guidelines, which are based only on food costs. More than half of the households with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard earn more than the 2009 federal poverty level of $14,570 for a single parent and a preschooler and $22,050 for a family of four.
"Many federal and state economic policies and programs address only those with incomes below or near the federal poverty level, which has created a large and diverse group of families who are routinely overlooked even though they are experiencing economic distress," said Carol Goertzel, President and CEO of PathWays PA. "These families are not considered in talks about how to support citizens in economic distress. They are falling through the cracks."
According to the study, only six percent of the households with inadequate income receive public cash assistance and 75 percent spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Nearly two-thirds have children. Other findings include:
· 26% are married couples with children
· 26% are single-female headed households with children
· 5% are single male-headed households with children
· 67% are white, 19% are black, 9% are Latino and 3% are Asian/Pacific Islander; 9 out of 10 households are headed by U.S. citizens
· 42% have a high school degree, 27% have some college or an associate’s degree, and 14%have a Bachelor’s degree or higher; 17% lack a high school diploma
The release of the report marks the first time that demographic data relating to the Self-Sufficiency Standard has been collected in the state. Previously, the Standard had simply been calculated but the number and types of households affected had not been determined.
For a single parent and preschool child, the Self-Sufficiency Standard ranges from $23,913 in lower-cost counties such as Bedford, Fulton, Fayette and Somerset to $36,208 in higher-cost areas such as Dauphin, Cumberland, Centre and Montour. The Self-Sufficiency Wage is lowest in the central southwestern part of the state. But lower-cost counties are concentrated in the interior of the state as well.
"Most of these households are in a policy gap - with incomes too high to qualify for most public assistance programs but too low to adequately meet their basic needs," said Goertzel.
"Using this report, we believe state policy makers can take steps to effectively deal with this shortcoming. A broad-based policy effort is needed to secure adequate wages, benefits and public supports, such as child care, to increase income adequacy for a large portion of Pennsylvania families," Goertzel said.
Dr. Robert Garraty, Executive Director of the State Workforce Investment Board, said efforts should include increased educational opportunities such as job training, apprenticeships, affordable community colleges and financial aid for education.
One proven method of increasing educational opportunities for workers is the state's Industry Partnership program, which brings together businesses in the same industry clusters and allows them to combine their resources to respond to human resource needs, retention/recruitment challenges, and provide training and skills advancement for employees. "Since the Industry Partnerships program began in 2005, more than 73,000 workers have benefited," said Dr. Garraty. "Workers who participated in training saw their incomes increase by an average of 6.62 percent in the first year after their training."
In addition to educational needs, most families need help with child care and housing costs, as indicated by the report findings. The overwhelming majority of families, Goertzel points out, are struggling to make ends meet without any help from work support programs. "It is not the lack of work that drives poverty, but rather the nature of the jobs and economic opportunity for those who are working," Goertzel said.
PathWays PA partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to produce the first edition of Overlooked and Undercounted. The report was developed by Diana M. Pearce, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
To view the full report, Overlooked and Undercounted: Struggling to Make Ends Meet in Pennsylvania, visit: