The United Way of North Carolina and United Ways across the state—including United Way of Central Carolinas—are releasing an updated edition of the Self-Sufficiency Standard, The Self-Sufficiency Standard for North Carolina 2020, which defines the minimum income needed to realistically support a family without public or private assistance in North Carolina.


For most workers, the Self-Sufficiency Standard shows that earnings above the official poverty measure are nevertheless far below what is needed to meet families’ basic needs. The data is available county-by-county across North Carolina and for more than 700 variables of household configuration.


“The Federal Poverty Level does not accurately reflect the threshold of need for working families. Many families across North Carolina are working two or more jobs and are still unable to make ends meet,” said Laura Marx, president and CEO of United Way of North Carolina. “The Self-Sufficiency Standard outlines clear barebones budgets and sets the minimum income threshold to be financially stable, without public or private assistance.”


According to Self-Sufficiency Standard data, over the last 24 years, the threshold for a four-person family consisting of one adult, one infant, one preschooler and one school-aged child increased on average across all North Carolina counties by 101%, or an annual average of 4.2% per year. However, there is considerable variation by county—ranging from 69% in Rowan County to 161% in Mecklenburg County.


“Families across the Charlotte region continue to face tremendous obstacles and hardships in meeting their basic needs for food, affordable housing and healthcare,” said Laura Yates Clark, president and CEO of United Way of Central Carolinas. “The information provided in the Self-Sufficiency Standard report will further guide us in making strategic decisions about our funding priorities, based on socio-economic disparities and our efforts to improve the lives of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.”


Marx explains that workers with income above the Federal Poverty Level may not be eligible for work supports and yet struggle to meet their basic needs. The Federal Poverty Measure is based solely on the cost of food without accounting for housing, childcare, healthcare, transportation and more. Additionally, the Federal Poverty Level does not change based on geographic location or the age of those in a household. The Self-Sufficiency Standard takes these important variables into account allowing for broader representation of all 100 North Carolina counties and all family compositions.


“Many working families were struggling before COVID-19 hit and essential workers have continued to support their families and communities, often at their own risk,” Marx said. “They have done their part to help our state move in the right direction. With children home from school, childcare challenges impacted these same families.”


Marx noted that depending on the age of children in the home, childcare alone can account for nearly a third of a family’s budget.


“When one adds housing, together these two items can reach close to 50% of a family’s monthly expense,” Marx said. “This data highlights the needs of essential workers and others struggling due to the impact of COVID-19 and will help our communities plan for how to invest dollars in local need.”


North Carolina’s Self-Sufficiency Standard features the Our Money Needs Calculator developed in partnership with RTI International. This online tool calculates, by county and household configuration, the minimum income required to meet basic needs without public or private assistance. An individual can view income needed annually, monthly or even an hourly wage, along with real-world expense categories for households.


“Understanding the needs of working families enables local United Ways and other nonprofits across our state to develop sustainable solutions and strategies to move families toward financial stability,” said Tim Gabel, executive vice president of RTI International and United Way of North Carolina board member. “The Self-Sufficiency Standard research is a real-world example of taking a data-driven approach to measuring need, taking in account both family composition and where they live, along with seven areas of expense. It was a privilege for our staff to support United Way of North Carolina in this effort.”