To grow up in a home that provides basic needs; to become a contributing member of society; to work hard, play by the rules, and enjoy economic security—these are the birthrights of every American child. It seems obvious that as an individual or family moves up in income, the reward is greater financial security and comfort. However, while both wages and public assistance benefits have gone up, costs have gone up more.
A livable income for a child’s family is, naturally, the most basic component of economic security. Yet that livable income is beyond the reach of far too many Vermont families. Our economy has developed into one where working families, sometimes with two, three, or even four jobs, cannot make ends meet. Vermont must take steps to make our society one where full-time work ensures economic self-sufficiency and a decent standard of living.
* Since 1999, Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office has kept track of how much it costs for families to meet basic needs. This basic-needs measure is calculated using the current costs for a specified list of essential needs, such as food, housing, child care, transportation, etc. It assumes that employers pay a large (73%–84%) share of health care costs for working families.(2)
* A study by the Vermont Peace and Justice Center revealed that in 2003 one out of four full-time workers earned less than what would be a livable income for a single person ($24,086/yr). In addition, the following percentage of full-time workers did not make a livable income:(3)
29% of single people
72% of single parents with one child
82% of single parents with two children
55% of families of four with one wage earner
35% of families of four with two wage earners
* Although there are many federal and state programs that assist families who earn low wages, it is usually not enough. A legislative study in 1999 showed a significant gap between the total amount a family receives from wages and benefits and the basic needs amount.(4)
* Since 1999, the gap between the money available to a household and the amount needed to provide basic needs has widened.(5)
* Pass an automatic cost of living increase provision for Vermont’s minimum wage law.
* Eliminate state and federal income taxes and FICA taxes on income needed to provide basic needs.
* Address the problem of loss of health insurance for families as they begin to earn wages high enough to cause them to lose coverage, but still too low to pay for basic needs.