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The self-sufficiency wage: Sometimes a job isn't enough

Study shows that loss of factory jobs is squeezing many families

POSTED: December 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Opponents to public assistance — aka, welfare — often say that recipients should go out and get a job. But a recent study has revealed that being employed may not necessarily decrease a person's chances of needing assistance from the government.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to expand economic success in Georgia, recently released a self-sufficiency study in which it analyzed the amount of income a family needs to meet its basic needs without public assistance.

According to the study, an adult with no children would need to earn at least $10.10 per hour at a full-time job to remain self-sufficient. An adult with an infant and a preschooler would need to earn an hourly wage of at least $21.91.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the manufacturing industry has the largest employee pool in Hall County. The average employee in that area makes around $19 per hour, which means a single, childless adult working in that industry wouldn't need public assistance to survive on that wage, but a single parent with two children likely would need some sort of assistance.

While those figures may be a bit troubling, what may be more troubling is the fact that jobs in the U.S. manufacturing industry are disappearing.

"A lot of our manufacturing jobs are ceasing to exist," said Kimberlee Wilson, who is the director of the Georgia Mountains Workforce Investment Area, which includes Hall County.

"One of the few areas where we continue to see steady employment rates is in the medical fields and in this area, those jobs generally pay between $12 and $25 per hour," she said.

In Hall County, the health care and social assistance industry is the second-largest employer after the manufacturing industry.

When calculating the self-sufficiency wage, study analysts took into account various expenditures, including housing, food, health care, child care and transportation.

According to Diana Pearce, author of the study, the self-sufficiency standard, or wage, differs from the federal poverty level in a number of ways.

"The federal poverty level is based on a demographic model developed in the 1960s which implicitly assumes that one parent works in a two-parent family and that no adults work in a one-parent family," Pearce said. "The federal poverty level assumes the same costs for all children, regardless of age. The self-sufficiency standard varies costs based on the age of children, which is particularly important for child care, as well as health care and food costs."

For example, according to the study, a single parent in Jackson County with a teenager and one school-age child would need to bring home at least $25,055 a year to support the family without public assistance. The annual wage needed for that same parent increases to $32,197 when the children are an infant and a preschooler.

While the self-sufficiency standard generally paints a larger picture of need than does the federal poverty level, the federal poverty level is the standard used when many agencies determine if a family or individual is eligible for public assistance.

In order to be considered living in poverty and thus eligible for public assistance, a family of three people could not earn more than $17,600 year. However, according to the self-sufficiency study, a family of three would need at least $31,536 a year to not need any form of public assistance.



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