At FIRC, we've followed the discussions in the Summit Daily around child care and housing costs for locals. Based upon our experiences with a variety of local families, and local and regional data, we'd like to provide some information that will be helpful to the conversation.
The Colorado Self-Sufficiency Standard is a tool for understanding the economic challenges of low- and moderate-income families. This county-by-county measure describes a "self-sufficiency wage," or amount that a family must earn to avoid relying on public or private assistance, for a variety of family types. In Summit County, for example, a single parent with an infant must earn $23.24 per hour full-time, or a little over $49,000 per year. A couple with an infant and preschooler must earn $18.21 per hour per adult, or $76,939 annually. The standard only looks at the basic needs of families; housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.
The standard indicates a large gap between "poverty" and "self-sufficiency" in Summit County. The 2012 Federal Poverty Level for the first family is $18,920, and for the second family $28,820. While there are families in Summit who earn at or below federal poverty level, there are far more who earn above it, but still fail to meet the Self-Sufficiency Standard.
So how do these standards compare to the realities of the local workforce? In 2010, nearly 50 percent of jobs in Summit were in the accommodation/food service industry, with an average annual wage of $23,348. This level of income does lend itself to self-sufficiency.
Housing and child care costs are typically the largest pieces of a family's budget. The challenge of affording housing and child care costs is faced not only by lower-earning families, but middle-income parents as well. This includes long-time locals who alternate between different types of seasonal work, those who work multiple part-time jobs to try and make ends meet, and those who work year-round, full-time and still struggle to keep up.
Child care is near the top the of expense list. The Self-Sufficiency Standard's estimated monthly child care cost for the single parent with an infant is $838, and for couple with an infant and preschooler, $2,034 (note the child care expense for the second family far exceeds even a typical rent payment for a 2-bedroom apartment). When combined with a budget where at least 30 percent, and sometimes more than 50 percent is allocated for rent, there's not much left at the end of the month for other basic needs like food, transportation, and health care.
Fortunately, in Summit County most of us recognize that work supports such as subsidization of housing and child care costs are necessary to help local families maintain economic security. Such programs decrease the gap between what families earn and what it takes to get by in Summit, targeting what are generally the two highest expenses a family with young children has: housing and child care. Supporting our local working families helps ensure their stability and in turn that of our community.
For more information, see The Colorado Center on Law and Policy "The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2011" at http://bit.ly/HC8cuB and The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments "2011 Benchmark Report" at http://bit.ly/Hyx9bC
Tamara Drangstveit, MNM is executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center; Rob Murphy is FIRC's community support program manager.