Intelligencer Journal (Pennsylvania), June 30, 2008: $50K is just ‘scraping by’

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Intelligencer Journal

Published: Jun 30, 2008


Despite recent boosts in Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, many working families across the state still struggle to make ends meet, according to a recently released report.

In Lancaster County, it costs $50,700 for a family of four two adults, one preschool-age child and one school-age child to meet basic living needs, according to the 2008 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania.

That figure is 139 percent above the 2008 federal poverty level of $21,200.

“The purpose of the report is to look at what people actually make against what they realistically need to live without public or private assistance,” said senior analyst Marianne Bellesorte of PathWaysPA, a provider of residential and community-based services.

Even though many families do not qualify as “poor” under the official poverty measure, advocates say their wages still are not sufficient to meet the high costs of basic household needs such as food, transportation and health care.

This sixth edition of the report was written in collaboration with PathWaysPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The standard was developed by Diana Pearce, director for the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work. It factors in the cost of child care and health care as well as food, housing and transportation. Cost of living is calculated separately for each county in the state.

The report is used to advocate for higher wages and is intended to aid businesses and industry sectors in understanding how their wage structures affect their employees by showing how much families need to earn to cover basic expenses, Bellesorte said.

For instance, the report was used in 2006 during testimony in Harrisburg that helped bring about passage of the state’s minimum wage increase, she said.

But even with that boost to $7.15 per hour as of July 2007 families across the state continue to struggle.

In Fulton County, the lowest-cost county in the state, according to the report, it costs $38,620 for a family of four to live. Both adults would have to earn $9.14 per hour fulltime to reach that nearly $2 per hour over the minimum wage.

The highest-cost county according to the report is Bucks County, where the same family would need $62,685, or 296 percent of the federal poverty level. Both wage earners would need to make $14.84 per hour to reach that level.

In Lancaster County, two adults would have to earn $12 an hour apiece to support a family of four.

Bellesorte said the report also aims to show that the federal formula for tabulating the poverty level is outdated and needs to better reflect real market costs.

“Practically, though, our immediate goals are to make this information available to families so they can see what they need to live and begin figuring how they can achieve those needs,” she said.

Bellesorte said families may be able to raise their income level through additional education or advanced training through the state’s many programs.

“The (report) reiterates the fact that Pennsylvanians need access to opportunities that provide ways to support their families,” Sandi Vito, acting secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry, said in a prepared release. “Some of those opportunities come through college education, but many more are available through Industry Partnerships, incumbent worker training and other skills enhancement programs in Pennsylvania.”

According to the report, until families reach adequate income levels and obtain economic self-sufficiency, many find support with state programs such as Pennsylvania’s CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The 2008 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania is available at


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