Report: Working poor far from self sufficiency

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 21, 2000

SACRAMENTO — The income of a single parent earning minimum wage falls far short of what’s needed to be self-sufficient in California, according to a report released Monday. 

Even those with jobs well above minimum wage are struggling to provide for their families, said researchers with Californians for Family Economic Self-Sufficiency.  

The report sets a “self-sufficiency standard” for each county, showing the minimum hourly wage needed to pay for the cost of living in California. 

“What the standard tells us is that lower wage jobs – even though well above the minimum wage or the official poverty level – simply do not provide enough for a family’s needs, even at a minimally adequate level,” said Diana Pearce, the report’s author. 

The self-sufficiency report recommends two strategies to close the gap between income levels and what’s needed to make ends meet – raise wages and increase state aid for necessities such as child care and housing. 

The report looked county-by-county at the costs most families have to bear – health care, housing, transportation and child care costs, said Pearce. 

For example, a single parent with two children in Sacramento needs to make about $34,000 a year to make ends meet.  

That’s more than twice the federal poverty level of $14,000 a year for a family of three. 

As expected, the highest hourly wage needed to support a family is in the Silicon Valley.  

A single parent with two children in Santa Clara County needs to earn $25.55 an hour, Pearce estimated. 

Part of the problem is that lawmakers use the federal poverty guidelines when setting policy – a guide that was established in the 1960s and isn’t based on modern costs or situations, such as the increase in single-parent families, researchers said. 

And too often, welfare case workers encourage aid recipients to take the first job offered to them, rather than complete their education or get training that will allow them to get higher paying jobs, said Pearce. 

That’s not news to Domaniquie Toney from Los Angeles, or Leilani Luia of Oakland, two single mothers who spoke at the news conference announcing the report’s release. 

On welfare since she was 15 years old, Toney, a 24-year-old mother of four, said she is now trying to finish high school so she can get a job that pays more than her current position as an office clerk. 

But case workers are pressuring her to take any job, regardless of the salary, instead of going to school, she said. 

“I really think they need to stress education, but they put it on the back burner,” she said. 

Luia, 32, said education is helping her close the gap between living on welfare and working full-time in a job that supports her family by herself.  

Luia, the mother of two, is attending college and plans to become a social worker. 

“Women who have not gotten higher education, but have gone through the programs in the county, have ended up in low-wage jobs that do not allow mobility.  

“They end up staying in poverty and staying in jobs like housekeeping, low-end clerical work like filing and phone operator, and even fast food,” she said. 

The study’s authors say lawmakers and Gov. Gray Davis should use the self-sufficiency standard as a guideline to expand programs that help the working poor in California. 

They suggest additional state aid for child care, health care and tax relief – especially for those going from welfare to the job market. 

“A single dollar of support often multiplies itself in benefits to a family,” Pearce said.