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Living Expenses Rising Far Faster than Wages, Study Finds
New York Times
Emily B. Hager

June 28, 2010
View the Original Article

For New York City families, increases in the cost of living have far outpaced wages, according to a report to be released Tuesday by a national organization working to advance economic equality for women and their families.

The report, known as the Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York City, which is released every five years by the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, compares the amount of money a family needs to make ends meet with the federal poverty level, commonly used to determine whether families receive subsidized housing, food stamps and other supports.

The report echoes conclusions reached by the city in a study released in March. The city came up with its own poverty yardstick that took into account expenses like housing, medical costs and child care, and concluded that the number of New Yorkers in poverty rose by about 7 percent from 2005 to 2008, even though by the federal standard fell by 8 percent during that time.

The Women’s Center report, aimed at establishing a more accurate assessment of need, calculated the income that families in each of the five boroughs would need to cover the costs of housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and taxes.

It found that while median earnings for a family consisting of a single parent, a preschooler and a school-aged child rose by 16 percent since 2000, the amount needed to cover basic costs has risen between 20 and 42 percent, depending on the borough.

For example, such a family living in Brooklyn now needs a $29.91 hourly wage to make ends meet, the report found — a 42-percent increase since 2000, driven primarily by housing costs.

The problem, the report’s authors say, is that only one out of the 10 most common jobs in the city (registered nursing) provide Brooklyn families with adequate income, leaving many to scrape by.

“There is a very high level of frustration,” said Merble Reagon, executive director of the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, of the women she counsels, many of whom have hourly jobs that do not have benefits and leave them regularly sacrificing one basic need for another.

Advocates for the poor have long argued that the federal formula, established decades ago and adjusted annually for inflation, is sorely outdated because it continues to assume that an average family spends far more on food than on other basic necessities, like clothing, shelter and utilities.

Ms. Reagon said the 2010 data should be used to “streamline” access to the services people need to survive in addition “to education, job training and jobs that provide a career ladder.”