San Angelo Cost of Living Exceeds Poverty Threshold
Members of the West Texas Organizing Stategy, SAISD, Esperanza Clinic, the Hunger Initiative and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as other organizations and interested San Angelo citizens gathered in the Stephens Central Library Tuesday evening for a presentation hosted by the Concho Valley Community Action Agency that focused on cost of living in the U.S. cities and life at the poverty line.
Director of Texas KIDS COUNT and researcher for the Center for Public Policy Priority (CPPP) Frances Deviney led the presentation, the bulk of which focused on a tool developed by the CPPP that utilizes state and county data to figure conservative cost of living expenses for cities throughout Texas with the option to include basic needs such as healthcare and childcare, as well as providing options for savings.
“Since 2001, we’ve been trying to figure out what actually does it take for families to make ends meet,” Deviney said. “…what we usually use is the idea of poverty. There’s a specific…threshold for poverty, but we know it’s so low that even if you’re just above poverty, it’s still hard to make ends meet,” she explained.
In the United States, the poverty threshold is based on a survey conducted in the 1950s that determined approximately 1/3 of a family’s income was spent on food, Deviney explained. That number was then multiplied by three to deduce the average cost of living for families in the nation and has been in used since the ‘60s. The number has since not been updated to account for new expenses, aside from inflation adjustments.
“Today—when they did a similar survey a few years ago, they found that only about 1/7 of a family’s income is spent on food,” Deviney said. She then detailed that food has gotten cheaper and that technological advancements have led to additional or higher bills for transportation, internet, cell phones and healthcare. “You’ll find that it (the actual expenses for necessities families incur by city) is actually about two times the poverty level what people need to survive.”
In order to better track the needs of families, data was collected on average monthly expenses in cities throughout the state of Texas, including rent and childcare prices, monthly food costs, healthcare costs, money set aside for savings, as well as the average salary and hourly rates of various interests within a city. All of this information was loaded into an online tool, where individuals can select their city and the number of members in their household, then add in additional factors to calculate the minimum needed to make ends meet in their municipality.
As one example, Deviney used a two adult family with two children living in San Angelo whose healthcare was covered by the employer. The data showed a family needs to earn at least $36,432 in order to cover all the bills in San Angelo, 1.6 times the poverty threshold. Based on average pay scales, all industries except food preparation would pay an individual enough to cover basic necessities, without much left over for savings, eating out or other activities.
The data are available online, and some local organizations are already using them. One woman present says she uses the information to encourage pregnant teens to pursue an education.
“We go out every month into the school system…We did a workshop with ADAC on Thursday for our teen moms at every school where we have teen moms, and we did a worksheet developing a budget…we went in there and watched the wheels start to turn,” she said.
She said that the worksheet covered incomes from high school dropouts to college graduates in order to provide a better understanding of financial responsibility in adulthood.
Chamber of Commerce President Phil Neighbors says he wasn’t surprised by the numbers presented as far as poverty and expenses go, but sees a use for the data.
“For me, not a lot of surprises, but I think what it shows for us as a community is there are a lot of opportunities for education,” Neighbors said. “The agencies that were represented here and the businesses that employ people here have the opportunity to teach people the solutions to work to improve their situations…from the workforce board to the hunger initiative, to the school board.”
Neighbors, like many of those present, stressed education as a use for the online tool. He emphasized the need to educate teens early about realistic salary expectations and expenses and mentioned the work Esperanza and the Workforce Board, among several other local agencies, do to educate adults on employment.
“There are opportunities to help people understand the cycles of poverty versus the solutions that she shared. I think this tool…sounds like a valuable resource to help us understand poverty,” he said.
The Concho Valley Community Action Agency was founded in 1966 to combat the causes of poverty in the 11 counties comprising the Concho Valley. More information on the agency may be found here.
The tool developed by the Center for Public Policy Priority can be found here.