New report shows 1/3 of Routt County families fall below self-sufficiency standards
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The income required to meet basic living expenses in Routt County is anywhere from two to four times what the government considers the official federal poverty level, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s 2018 Self-Sufficiency Standard.
And almost a third — or 30.4 percent — of local households fall under the self-sufficiency wage standard.
For a single adult with one child in preschool, the family of two would need to earn $61,811 a year with an hourly wage of $29.27 to make ends meet in Routt County, according to the report’s Routt County calculator. The federal poverty benchmark for the same family is $16,460.
The report, released last week, incorporates housing, food, transportation, child care and health care costs to calculate the Self-Sufficiency Standard. It also includes miscellaneous expenses, like clothing and hygiene products, taxes, tax credits and emergency savings.
A family with two adults and two school-age children would need to earn $78,755 per year with an hourly wage of $18.64 to cover expenses in Routt County. The federal poverty benchmark for a family of four is $25,100.
An annual income of $95,915 and an hourly wage of $22.71 is required for a Routt County family with two adults, one infant and one child in preschool.
For a single adult household, the federal poverty benchmark is $12,140 annually, while the self-sufficiency wage for Routt County is calculated at $28,639.
Child care costs, especially for babies, make up a large part of expenses in Routt County. For the single parent with a child in preschool, child care is $1,363 a month, more than housing at $1,236 per month.
For the family with two adults and an infant and a preschooler, child care accounts for $2,839 per month.
Housing costs also are calculated using averages across the county. Thus, they would likely be higher in Steamboat than the $1,236 per month the report calculates for all three families used in the example.
“Looking at our housing market, this may be difficult for the family of four to find,” said Kelly Keith, director of Routt County Department of Health and Human Services.
The federal poverty guidelines are used to determine eligibility for assistance programs like Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
While many of those programs offer assistance to families above the federal benchmark, the higher cost of living in places like Routt County still leaves out many families who are working multiple jobs and struggling to cover costs but don’t qualify for assistance.
The report is helpful, Keith said, in showing the struggles many families can face, even if they are well above the poverty line.
“Looking at the monthly costs, there is little room for extra expenses,” Keith said. “So, if one or two of the items in the budget cost a little more or there is an unexpected expense, the family could still face challenges making ends meet.”
The primary obstacles she sees locally include high housing costs, challenges finding and affording quality child care, the high cost of health care and the seasonality of some employment.
Keith called the inclusion of an emergency savings fund a key component of the standard.
The single parent with a preschooler had an emergency fund of $188. For the two adults with two school-age children, it was $85, and for the single adult, it was $52. The family with two adults, one infant and one preschooler had an emergency fund of $114.
“One car repair, medical bill or unexpected expense can really be a struggle when a family is already on a tight budget,” she said. “Unfortunately, saving for an emergency can be difficult as it can seem extra expenses come up often.”
LiftUp of Routt County Executive Director Sue Fegelein said her organization is seeing an increase in the need for services.
LiftUp serves people making 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which would be $62,750 annually for a family of four or $30,350 for an individual. This equates to about one in 10 Routt County residents, Fegelein said.
“A majority of our clients work one to three jobs and still can’t make ends meet,” she said.
LiftUp helps families during times of emergency. This year, Fegelein said over $50,000 was given out in emergency housing funds, and that amount seems to rise as the cost of living increases.
LiftUp also offers walk-in food banks, where anyone can come without registering. Last year, there were 16,000 individual visits to the food banks — a number Fegelien said LiftUp is rapidly approaching this year.
They’ve also been adapting their programs to better serve seasonal workers, which Fegelein said aren’t isolated to the resort and can also mean ranchers, contractors and others whose income changes with the season.
According to the report, the solution to closing the wage gap between current wages and the Self-Sufficiency Standard “requires access to education, training and jobs that provide real potential for skill and career advancement over the long term.”
A supplemental report details three ways individuals and families can make the jump from “surviving to thriving” through retirement savings, educational attainment or more stable housing/home ownership.
“Routt County has a lot of fantastic not-for-profits and programs that are working together to improve opportunities and support families in our community,” Keith said.
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