New League report and online tool calculate how much it really costs to make ends meet in each county

For Immediate Release
May 3, 2017

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517-487-5436

For 20 years, League has been publishing report to help policymakers understand true economic struggles of Michigan families

LANSING—It costs a Michigan family between $2,580 and $4,722 a month to pay for necessities and provide for themselves and their family according to Making Ends Meet in Michigan, a new report released by the Michigan League for Public Policy today. The monthly income necessary to make ends meet for a single parent with two kids is $3,943, and it costs a single worker $1,923 a month to get by.

The report analyzes and compiles state and county data on the costs of housing, food, child care, healthcare, transportation, and clothing and other household necessities along with likely taxes owed, to identify the Basic Needs Income Level. The Basic Needs Income Level is the amount of household income a family or individual must have to have in order to meet basic needs without public or private assistance. It’s what it really costs to live in a county.

An online calculator available at www.mlpp.org/calculator can be used to calculate the cost of living by county and family size. This report uniquely analyzes four different household sizes in each county—single, single parent, two parents/both working and two parents/one working. All families assume two children under age 5.

“For too long, policymakers have only used the poverty level and unemployment to assess how people in Michigan are doing, but there’s so much more to every Michigan family’s story and struggles than that,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “This report seeks to draw attention to how much it really costs for families to make ends meet both statewide and in each county, and how our state’s current wages and services are not cutting it.”

The federal poverty threshold determines who is counted as officially poor but tells us little about whether a person or family is living in economic security. It does not reflect regional and local differences in the cost of living and is based on a model that, while adequate when first devised in 1965, is less reflective of today’s economic realities.

The Basic Needs Income Level calculated in this report is intended to help lawmakers and residents easily understand how much income a family needs in order to pay for all of its basic expenses. The Basic Needs Income Level can be used to measure the economic security of Michigan’s working families, assess the adequacy of worker wages and benefits, promote programs and policies that assist families in need, and as a benchmark by which to assess the quality of jobs being created in the state.

With this localized data on how much it really costs for families to make ends meet, the Michigan League for Public Policy’s report reframes the discussions around need, wage standards, public assistance and what it means to live in economic security. The League is focused on ensuring all Michigan residents have economic security because simply lifting people out of poverty is not enough. In addition to showing that the poverty level alone is not an adequate measure of stability, this data also shows that the state’s unemployment rate is not the only—or an adequate—benchmark for economic recovery.

“This data backs up what we’ve been saying the last few years as Michigan has ‘recovered’: the recovery is still not reaching everyone, many people are working in low-wage jobs and barely getting by, and the high costs of child care and healthcare are breaking people at all income levels,” Jacobs said. “There are a variety of policy changes lawmakers can make to help address this, including increasing the minimum wage, upholding healthcare and strengthening child care supports, passing a statewide earned sick leave law, and creating a fairer tax system that helps struggling workers as much as it does the wealthy.”

The League continues to connect the challenges facing Michigan kids and residents with the policy solutions to help them. To that end, Making Ends Meet outlines the following policy recommendations for lawmakers to better support their constituents:

  • Protect Michigan’s expansion of Medicaid and the federal Affordable Care Act as a whole;
  • Restore and strengthen the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • Update Michigan’s child care subsidy;
  • Raise the minimum wage;
  • Invest in skills training and adult education.
  • Enact workplace protections such as earned sick leave and predictable scheduling; and
  • Create a more adequate tax system, including a graduated income tax.

In this report, housing costs are based on the Fair Market Rent (the 40th percentile of rents in each county) provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Food expenses are from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Low-Cost Food Plan. Child care costs are based on the 2015 Cost of Care Report from the Early Childhood Investment Corporation and healthcare expenses are calculated using the federal healthcare marketplace exchange. Finally, costs for clothing, household necessities, personal care and telephone come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey and may vary depending on the family’s circumstances. Taxes are based on income and family size. For additional information, including data appendices and more details on how each of these expenses was calculated, go to www.mlpp.org/resources/making-ends-meet-in-michigan.

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The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.