The Self-Sufficiency Standard for South Carolina 2020

Posted By: Naomi Lett Advocacy ,

2020 is quickly becoming one of the most difficult years in recent history. 

I don’t have to say to you, my partners on the front lines of your communities, that those hit the hardest during this time are working families who live in a constant state of financial hardship and for whom “making ends meet” is a persistent and fleeting task.

As a person who grew up in poverty, I understand the challenges of, “No matter how hard I work, I can’t seem to get ahead.” And, how fragile the journey from poverty to ability can be.

The past seven months have hurt so many on that journey – many of whom don’t know the way out.

In an effort to better understand the needs – and the journey – United Ways across the state partnered with our collogues at the Sisters of Charity Foundation, Central Carolina Community Foundation, The Riley Institute at Furman, and the Coastal Community Foundation to publish The Self-Sufficiency Standard for South Carolina 2020.

The Standard is a is a measure of income adequacy that is based on the costs of basic needs for working families:  housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, and miscellaneous items, as well as the cost of taxes and the impact of tax credits. 

In addition, the report provides for each family type, in each county, the amount of emergency savings required to meet needs during a period of unemployment or other emergency. 

The Standard was published in an effort to ensure the best data and analyses are available to enable South Carolina’s families and individuals to make progress toward real economic security. The result is a comprehensive, credible, and user-friendly tool. 

The measure describes the income families of various sizes and in each county across South Carolina need to make ends meet, without public or private assistance.  It is intended to provide a more modern and accurate measure of costs associated with financial stability.  Unlike the Federal Poverty Guideline, which used food as a base measure in the 1950’s, the cost of food is, on average, only 10% of a household’s budget.  Whereas, housing and childcare frequently represents the bulk of cost for a family, and housing being nearly unattainable in many areas of the state.  These two areas often represent the ‘fiscal cliff’ that prevent families from advancing financially.

The Standard was first published in 2016; four years later there are some significant changes:

  • A family with two small children in Greenwood would pay 27% of their wages for childcare, and 17% for housing.
  • 8 of 46 counties in South Carolina require at least $20 hourly to meet a self-sufficient wage.
  • 10 of 46 counties in South Carolina had an increase in their Self-Sufficiency wage of between 21-26%.
  • Rural counties in central South Carolina with shrinking opportunity and populations saw the lowest increases of only 1%.

South Carolina’s labor profiles show that the majority of our major industries fall behind the wage needed for families to make ends meet and that, in the last four years, the cost of living has outpaced wages 4 to 1. 

With prosperity comes a deepening divide, yet to view wages and occupation as the only path to a solution, leaves out the importance of investing and building communities that support individuals and families no matter what their occupation or wage.

Our collective advocacy, both state and local, along with targeted investments, can build economically inclusive communities that reflect the diverse industries and employment opportunities in South Carolina – expressing value and creating space for economic diversity - shifting poverty.

For instance, robust public transportation can decrease a family’s wage burden by up to 21% and providing low-cost or subsidized childcare can decrease it even more.  Advocating for sustained public transportation – and building access to education, food, and childcare on the routes, can support families advancement without creating undue burdens on time.

Many population dense cities maintain housing that does not increase in cost as the surrounding area increases in value.  Addressing these three major cost areas for families creates livable communities and express the value of our working families across the state.

We at United Way, along with our partners, hope to share this tool with all of you so that we can continue the work with a greater understanding of how we can work together to build strong, supportive communities. We hope that you will join us in this journey – building livable cities and towns across our state.

In 2021, look for the “Overlooked and Undercounted” Report, a deeper dive into who is left behind in the economic advancement of our state.