The Self-Sufficiency Standard
The Self-Sufficiency Standard calculates how much money working adults need to meet their basic needs without subsidies of any kind. Unlike the federal poverty standard, the Self-Sufficiency Standard accounts for the costs of living and working as they vary by family size and composition and by geographic location. While both the Self-Sufficiency Standard and the official federal poverty measure assess income adequacy, the Standard differs from the official poverty measure in several important ways.
The Standard defines the amount of income necessary to meet basic needs (including paying taxes) in the regular "marketplace" without public subsidies—such as public housing, food stamps, Medicaid or child care—or private/informal subsidies—such as free babysitting by a relative or friend, food provided by churches or local food banks, or shared housing. The Standard, therefore, estimates the level of income necessary for a given family type—whether working now or making the transition to work—to be independent of welfare and/or other public and private subsidies. To the extent possible, the data used in the Self-Sufficiency Standard are:
- collected or calculated using standardized or equivalent methodology nationwide;
- obtained from scholarly or credible sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau;
- updated annually (or as soon as updates are available); and
- geographically- and/or age-specific (where appropriate).
The Standard provides important guidance for policymakers and program providers regarding how to target their education, job training, workforce development, and welfare-to-work resources. It helps individuals choose among occupations for work experience and educational training. It also shows policymakers how subsidizing child care, transportation or health care impacts the wages necessary for working families to make ends meet.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard is relevant to a range of issues and arenas, providing crucial information about wage adequacy to help design strategies for self-sufficiency. The Standard can be used in a variety of settings-from the welfare client choosing the best path out of poverty for herself and her family, to organizations weighing investment in various education and training opportunities, to state-level policymakers facing critical policy choices on tax policy, subsidies, welfare-to-work programs, economic development plans, education and training.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard was created by Wider Opportunities for Women and Dr. Diana Pearce, founder of the Women and Poverty Project at WOW, and a professor at the University of Washington, School of Social Work.
The Standard also offers the relevant data to provide further analysis on the Modeling of Work Supports, Wage Adequacy, and Local High-Growth Self-Sufficient Jobs.