Report shows hike in cost of living in state

Report shows hike in cost of living in state
FILE -- Jordana Bischoff, 12, left, her brother Nate, 14, center left, father, Howard, center right, and mother, Hollis, far right, shop for cheese at a grocery store.
SEATTLE (AP) - A new report confirms what most Washington families already know - it's getting more costly to meet basic needs such as housing, food and child care.

But the University of Washington report - "The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Washington State 2009" - aims at underlining the growing gap between wages and the costs of basic needs by calculating those needs on a per county basis and a more detailed level.

Researchers hope to paint a more accurate picture of how much money families in the state need to survive at a basic level by calculating average incomes for different industries, and costs of basic needs such as housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation. Taxes and tax credits were taken into account. Variables such as age of children were also included.

"Costs are rising, particularly in Western Washington," lead researcher Diana Pearce said. "Costs have gone up more than a third since 2001 at the same time wages have stagnated."

This is the third time Pearce has released these calculations. The first two reports came out in 2001 and 2006.

The study shows a family of one adult and two children in the Seattle area needs an annual income of more than $50,000, a standard that jumped more than 35 percent since 2001. Comparably, a similar family in Spokane would need an income of more than $38,500 to meet those basic needs, an increase of 28 percent.

In Wahkiakum County, that figure drops to $29,324 while in Yakima County it's $34,182.

"These are bare-bones budgets," Pearce said. "There's nothing extra in them. Nothing for emergencies. There's no savings... And this means that families that don't meet these needs and are below these standards really have to make some hard budgets."

The report also found that among the state's largest occupations, measured by the number of people working them, registered nurses earn the most money, while retail employees, cashiers, janitors would not meet the minimum self-sufficiency standards.

The report is also critical of the federal poverty line, which they describe as outdated and does not include key family costs.

"Can you try imagining living in the King County area on $17,000 for a family of three?" said Tony Lee, a longtime advocate for low-income people in the state. "In the last 10 years there's a growing awareness in the state Legislature and among other policy makers that the federal poverty level is simply insufficient, inadequate and very inaccurate way of measuring people's basic needs."

Pearce's work has been included in a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Seattle, that aims at changing how the federal level measures poverty.

Pearce also helped develop a calculator, available online, that helps estimate a self-sufficiency budget for families in every county.