A calculator provided by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) - that has recently been talked about by many of our NoVA colleagues - estimates that in 2017 the income a two adult, two child household needed to attain a “modest yet adequate standard of living” in Alexandria was $105,239. (The area median income has risen by over 9% since then.) To arrive at that income, the EPI considered the 2017 Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment, childcare for a 4 and 8 year old child, food, transportation, healthcare, taxes, and other necessities (clothing, cleaning supplies, school supplies, telephone services, etc.) We’ve provided a chart below that compares the values determined for all ten scenarios the calculator provided:
Annual Income needed for "modest yet adequate" standard of living in Alexandria, 2017
It should come as no surprise that the more people that live in a household, the more that household needs to get by. It also makes sense that more children equals more childcare costs. (There is a bit of a leveling off period observed in this graph between three and four children in a household; it is assumed that a three and four child household both rent a three bedroom apartment, but that the oldest child in a four child household (at age 16) no longer needs substantial child care.)
However, the data this chart compares can obfuscate the disproportionate impact the costs have on a single-adult household, or how households of the same size but a different composition of adults to children might fare differently. Below, we take the cost required in each of the above scenarios and break it down into the wage needed per adult per hour, assuming each adult works 52 weeks per year and 40 hours per week:
Dollars per hour needed by each adult member of a household to attain "modest yet adequate" standard of living in Alexandria, 2017
To illustrate this impact, consider the three person family living in a two bedroom unit: a three person family that is one widowed or separated adult, and two children ages 4 and 8 needs $97,398 per year to get by in Alexandria, where a household of three people that is two adults and one child household needs just $88,810. (You can see screenshots of the results from EPI for these two families in the images at right.)
The entire burden of the $97,398 household income needed by the one adult, two child family falls on a single worker who, if working full time, needs to earn at minimum $46.83/hour - over six times the minimum wage, three times a $15/hour wage, and nearly double the NLIHC’s estimate for the mean renter wage in Alexandria last year ($23.51). In comparison, The two adult, one child household can split the $88,810 income burden into an average of $21.35/hour for each adult, or reduce the childcare burden with an at-home or part-time parent.
What can a household do to reduce this cost burden?
Reduce the cost of housing. With a rent estimated at the Fair Market Rent of $1,736, this hypothetical family is already well under the Alexandria average of $2040/month for 2017 according to Zumper (The Patch) - finding a cheaper unit around here would be tough.
This family could move to a different area, but this comes with significant additional costs that might place this option out of reach. The costs of moving itself and finding a new place to live (including first/last month’s rent and a security deposit) can easily become multiple thousands of dollars. The emotional costs of moving away from an established network of family and friends, and the possible impacts of changing schools, moving away from established medical care, and going to a place where you don’t have the same professional connections or opportunities also need to be considered.
The family could also choose to live in substandard housing, such as renting a one bedroom unit and converting the living space into a bedroom, or living in unsafe/overcrowded conditions. This comes at significant cost to their emotional and physical, and long term well being. (How Housing Matters)
Reduce the cost of childcare. Childcare is nearly as expensive as rent in this scenario ($1,736/month for rent, and $1,635 for childcare for a 4 and 8 year old child, which is still substantially less than infant care costs). The one adult, two child family could reduce this burden if they’re lucky enough to have local grandparents or other friends/relatives who don’t need work and are capable of providing childcare, look for subsidies (work or government based) for childcare, or compete for space in affordable childcare programs, which can be difficult to come by and, at the end of the day, still expensive (Alexandria Living Magazine).
Reduce other costs which have diminishing returns on impact given their smaller portions of the monthly budget. Their $747 in transportation costs could be dropped some via public transportation (though this study already considers transit as it estimates the transportation cost); the food budget of $756 could be dropped with creative spending, choosing less nutritious options, or public benefits; or they could spend less on the $1,005 on “other necessities” (clothing, cleaning, furniture, school supplies, grooming supplies, and telephone coverage among other things.)
(Note that this budget makes no concern for things that make life enjoyable and support the emotional well-being of individuals and families: youth league memberships, family vacations, or a private space to play or for an angsty pre-teen. It also makes no concern for saving for a rainy day or a house down payment.)
As non-profit housing advocates, we work hard to leverage as many financial resources as possible to create new low-cost housing and rehabilitate existing affordable housing, nurture innovative partnerships and building arrangements to drive construction costs down, and create spaces that are budget-friendly to their occupants. We know that by helping families reduce the cost of rent, we can substantially improve their lives. But with an issue as large and holistic as the impacts of housing on families, and with limited resources to solve the problem via building and renovating, it’s important for us to consider too where we might be able to support our neighbors through other programs and services that can support their budgets as well - such as helping families with free, fresh produce that supports grocery budgets.
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