One of my favorite policy groups, the Center for Public Policy Priorities released a new data tool that finds what a two-income family with two kids must earn to cover basic expenses in various areas of the state, without any kind of family or government assistance.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other public sources, the Center for Public Policy Priorities created the Better Texas Family Budgets, an online public education tool that measures what it really takes to survive and thrive across 26 metropolitan areas for eight different family sizes.
They go on to describe some startling facts.
“The basic budgets we’ve created paint a picture of what it takes for Texas families to cover basic needs and have a safe and healthy lifestyle,” said Frances Deviney, senior research associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “Our base budgets don’t account for what it takes to get ahead, such as college savings for their children or emergency savings to protect against unexpected hard times.”
To explore what it takes to get ahead, the Better Texas Family Budgets tool features three new savings categories – emergency, college, and retirement – that the user can opt to add on top of the basic family budget.
“The Better Texas Family Budgets addresses how much income is enough for working Texas families, and clearly, the answer is complex,” Deviney said. “It depends on how big your family is, where you live, and what kind of benefits your job provides, if any at all.”
The Better Texas Family Budgets also calculates how many jobs in each metropolitan area pay enough to cover the needs of different sized families.
“From what this shows us, just having a job is not enough in Texas, and there is gap between what people are earning and how much it costs to live.” said Don Baylor, Jr., senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Nearly 80 percent of low-income Texas families are working full-time and year-round, so clearly many of them are poor not because they don’t work but because their job doesn’t pay enough. In fact, Texas has the third-worst rate across the country of jobs that pay at or below minimum wage.
“Not only do we need jobs that pay and offer good benefits, but also we must reinvest in the safety net to keep families from falling further into poverty when times get tough,” Baylor said.
For all those who complain about assistance for those who need it, well, this tool provides a dose of reality.
This tool highlights what life is really like for Texas families and emphasizes what our policy priorities should be moving forward during the 2013 legislative session. To ensure that all Texans can not only get by, but can actually get ahead, we need to invest in public and higher education to create opportunities for well-paying jobs with benefits. We also need to shore up those work supports for Texans whose jobs don’t pay enough to cover basic expenses by ensuring they do not go hungry (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and have access to affordable quality health care (e.g., implementation of health reform). These programs provide a critical hand-up to families who are working hard to get ahead.
Accompanying the tool is a video documentary which can be seen here.
Thanks to CPPP for developing this snapshot of reality.