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Here's what you need to earn to 'survive' in Colorado counties

To 'survive' in Colorado, most people need to earn much more than the state's minimum wage. This is especially true for those along the Front Range and in the High Country.

A study released Tuesday shows how much families of various sizes would need to earn to survive in each Colorado county.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy commissioned the study.

"Survive" in the study is defined as living without any private or public assistance program -- such as a nonprofit or WIC -- and affording basic things like childcare (if you have children), transportation, housing, food, health care, taxes and miscellaneous things (like clothes and a phone bill). The study makes no mention of extraneous costs like a student loan payment, going out to eat or a medical emergency.

The report, researched by the Center for Women's Welfare in the University of Washington's School of Social Work, also points out that the federal poverty line is woefully inept at helping communities around the state understand the needs of the most economically vulnerable. 

According to the report, federal poverty guidelines say a family of three (adult, pre-school child, school-age child) need only $20,781 annually to not be considered "in poverty." But a family of three in Larimer County would need $59,694 annually to survive without any assistance, according to the report.

Included on the report's webpage is a quick county-based calculator that allows for anyone with any family situation to "find out" how much they would need to live without assistance in any of Colorado's 64 counties. For example, according to the calculator, a single person in Boulder County needs only about $30,000 annually to live. A family of five with an infant, school-age child and teenager needs $100,000, by contrast. You can use the calculator at this link.

The minimum hourly wage in Colorado - $10.20 - is only 36 percent of the needed income to meet the "self-sufficiency standard" for a single parent with two kids in Denver County, the report says. To make up the other 64 percent, the report says wages need to be raised and costs for most things need to be reduced. Instead of lowering the cost for health care statewide, the report instead points to "work supports" - things that lower various costs for families and adults in Colorado.

These work supports are considered to be food benefits, child care assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit and other supports offered by both the government and various nonprofits in the state. 

Raising wages, according to the report, isn't jumping the minimum wage to $31 an hour - instead, it means access to jobs that pay a reasonable wage with career potential (i.e., raises, paid time off, paid sick and family leave). 

The researchers at the University of Washington argue the report should be used to influence policy. "The Self-Sufficiency Standard is currently used to better understand issues of income adequacy, analyze policy and help individuals striving to be self-sufficient," the report says.

The report says it used a wide range of sources to compile the listed expected needs for each county in the state, including government numbers, state numbers and various other factors. The full report has its methodology on page 17, which you can find at this link.

The struggle facing Denverites

According to the study, Denver is one of the more expensive cities in the country to live. A family of one parent and one child living in Denver needs to make a little more than $53,000 to make ends meet. That's more than three times the federal standard. It’s a trend local non-profits told 9NEWS is no surprise.

"While we're serving more families we're also seeing a greater need," said Allie Card, executive director of  Family Promise of Greater Denver. "That's really really hard to recognize that people who should be making a good living can't enjoy life anymore... can't celebrate those small things in life and buy Christmas presents."

Card has been working for Family Promise for four years and has seen a lot of changes. She said this year the organization plans to serve twice the amount of families than last year. She also said for a lot of the families her organization serves, rent can take up almost 80 percent of the budget.

"It's definitely impacting a different population than we've seen in the past,” she said. "I would say about 80 percent of the families we serve in the shelter are working and still can't afford to get into this rental market."

The 2018 Self-Sufficiency Standard report backs that up. It says a family of four, for example, needs to earn $34 an hour to survive without public assistance. That will take care of the costs of basic needs like housing, food, childcare, transportation and taxes. No room for anything extra.

"It just makes all the other things in life more difficult to pay for," Card said.  

Because how can you think about Christmas gifts when rent is due a few days later?

"I think we need to see some more political will and some more people in power recognizing the impact it's having," Card said. "Every time I'm on the phone with a family it breaks my heart and I don't think it'll ever stop breaking my heart because everyone needs a safe place to call home and everyone needs to have their basic needs met."