It takes a lot to get by in Kentucky

It’s pretty clear by now that families across Kentucky are still struggling in the wake of the recession. Although unemployment has been decreasing, the number of children in poverty continues to climb, as does the number of households relying on food stamps to feed their families. Times are tough and they don’t appear to be getting much better.

Last week, the Economic Policy Institute released their updated Family Budget Calculator (which you can check out here). Jere Downs at the Courier-Journal also featured the new tool and information in a recent story. The tool allows you to enter family composition (one parent, two children; two parents, one child), state, and area. After you enter this information for a particular family, the tool estimates the income that family needs in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard. Here’s an example for a family in Owensboro:

Owensboro, KY MSA (KY)

One Parent, Two Children

Item

Cost

Monthly Housing $643
Monthly Food $546
Monthly Child Care $963
Monthly Transportation $459
Monthly Health Care $1467
Monthly Other Necessities $304
Monthly Taxes $292
Monthly Total $4675
Annual Total $56106

 

A worker earning minimum wage and working full-time, year-round will earn about $15,080 a year before taxes. This is far below the federal poverty level for a three person family ($19,530 in 2013) and very much below the cost of living in Owensboro, KY.

This information further highlights the importance of work supports to help families close the gap between what they earn and what it takes to make ends meet. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the child care assistance program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program all help working families make ends meet.

However, Kentucky could be doing so much more to support low-income, working families. For example, Kentucky policymakers could help families by enacting a state EITC, and by restoring recent cuts made to the Child Care Assistance Program and the Kinship Care Program. The EITC in particular is the nation’s most successful anti-poverty program. It is built on the basic value that work is better than welfare and has a proven record of moving people into the workforce.

Families who work full time should be able to make ends meet. There are programs that will achieve this – it’s up to our policymakers to protect and enhance them.

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