Strategies to Build Economic Security in California, Shortcomings of the Official Federal Poverty Measures, Better Tools to Measure Economic Need in California, Improving Lives in California Using Better Measures, Self-Sufficiency Calculator, What Our Partners Are Saying, Our History
Three in ten non-elderly California households struggle to make ends meet. However, the federal poverty measure captures only about a third of the nearly 2.9 million households in California who need assistance. The other two-thirds fall through the cracks of our support systems, unable to qualify for many programs that would strengthen their efforts to gain economic stability.
Through the Insight Center's Californians for Economic Security (CFES), the California arm of Building Economic Security for All (BESA), we work to help all Californians achieve a basic level of economic security so they have enough money to not only cover the expenses of everyday life like rent, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes, but also enough to begin to develop and/or draw on savings and assets. Savings and assets are what enable people to cover the costs of emergencies, build an economically secure future, and leave poverty behind, for good. CFES is a broad-based coalition of over 400 legislators, advocates, direct service providers and foundations who support policies and programs that build economic security for families and the communities in which they live.
Having been a leader on this issue since 1997, the Insight Center uses a combination of strategies to build economic security in California. We:
Poverty reduction programs in California and across the country use outdated measures, the Federal Poverty Thresholds and Federal Poverty Guidelines, to determine who needs and receives assistance for many programs. The Federal Poverty Guidelines are "frozen" at the level of a basket of goods and services adequate for families in the 1950s, and updated only for inflation. They do not reflect rapidly increasing costs, such as health care and taxes or "new" costs such as child care; nor do they reflect local differences in the cost of basic goods and services. As a result, tens of thousands of Californians who are not making ends meet do not receive the support they need: the official poverty measure captures only about a third of the California households who need assistance.
Families living in California pay different amounts for basic household goods depending on where they live. For example, in lower-cost Fresno County, a family of two adults, one preschooler, and one school age child needs $59,967 a year to cover the cost of basic needs. But in higher-cost San Francisco County, that same family needs $76,352 a yearâ€”over $16,000 more a yearâ€”to pay for those same household expenses.
Our organizing and advocacy work focuses on what it actually costs to make ends meet in communities across California, as defined by the Self-Sufficiency Standard for California (Self-Sufficiency Standard), a measure of the income needed to cover basic needs available for 156 different family types in each of California's 58 counties.
Unlike the official federal poverty measures, the Self-Sufficiency Standard uses publicly available data sources to quantify the actual costs of meeting the basic needs for working families by county - without public or private assistance.
Over the past decade, policymakers, service providers, advocates, labor unions, foundations, educators, and working families have used the Self-Sufficiency Standard to improve lives in California. They use the tool to:
Developed in 2005 by the Insight Center and Self-Sufficiency Solutions, the Self-Sufficiency Calculator is an anonymous online tool for counselors who work with low-income individuals and families in certain counties in California. The Calculator helps counselors find what financial help might be available, provides a "before" and "after" budget that takes that financial help into account, and tracks progress toward economic security using the Self-Sufficiency Standard.
The Insight Center was one of four leaders that, in 1997, launched the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Project: an innovative, nation-wide effort to gain support for proven practices to help working families reach economic security, using realistic benchmarks of what it takes to make ends meet in today's economy. With partners in 37 states and Washington D.C., this work has developed into a national movement to transform the way we measure and address poverty in the United States.