In North Carolina, the amount needed to be economically self-sufficient varies considerably by geographic location. For instance, the amount needed to make ends meet for one adult and one preschooler varies from $14.40 per hour ($30,402 annually) in Richmond County to $23.86 per hour ($50,397 annually) in Orange County, or from 190% of the federal poverty guideline (FPG) to 315% of the federal poverty guideline.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard also varies by family type, that is, by how many adults and children are in a family and the age of each child. One adult living in Guilford County needs an hourly wage of $9.89 ($20,886 annually) to meet basic needs. For families with children, the amount needed to cover basic needs increases considerably. If the adult has a preschooler and a school-age child, the amount necessary to be economically secure more than doubles, increasing to $24.45 per hour ($51,631 annually) in order to cover the cost of child care, a larger housing unit, and increased food and health care costs.
For families with young children, the cost of housing and child care combined typically account for approximately half of the family’s budget. For example, for a family with two adults, one infant, and one preschooler in Forsyth County, child care is 29% of the family’s budget while housing is 16%, food costs take up 14%, health care is 11%, and transportation is 9%.
The 2017 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Charlotte is more expensive than most comparably-sized cities. The Self-Sufficiency Standard for one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child in Charlotte ($28.51 per hour) is more expensive than Atlanta, GA ($22.44 per hour) and Baltimore, MD ($25.22 per hour), but less expensive than Virginia Beach, VA ($31.06 per hour).
Over the past two decades, cost increases have far outstripped wage increases. While the Self-Sufficiency Standard for a four-person family in Buncombe County increased by 128% since 1996, workers’ median earnings increased by 34% (from $20,508 to $27,456) in Buncombe County over the same time period, a rate less than a quarter of the increase in costs.
The federal poverty guideline for three-person families ($20,160 annually) is set at a level well below what is minimally adequate to meet a family’s basic needs. For example, the federal poverty guideline is 42% of the Standard for one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child in Franklin County ($16.20 per hour and $34,207 annually).
Although a quarter of North Carolina workers hold one of the top ten most common occupations in North Carolina (measured by the number of workers), only one of these occupations have median wages above the Standard for a family of three in Catawba County. Only registered nurses have median wages above the Self-Sufficiency Standard for one adult, one preschooler, and one school-age child in Catawba County, which is $21.67 per hour ($45,767 annually), while the median wages for the other nine occupations are below this family type’s Standard in Catawba County.
Maintaining an emergency savings fund is a crucial step towards economic security. A single parent with a preschool-aged child living in Burke County needs to earn $2,681 per month to meet their basic needs. The parent needs to earn an additional $92 per month to have an emergency saving fund. If the family lives in Wake County they need $4,051 per month to be self-sufficient and an additional $112 per month to save for emergencies.