The federal poverty line, $23,550 for a family of four, is considered the minimum amount a family needs to get by. Yet many families need much more to cover all the costs they face and truly feel economically secure. Most Americans say a family of four needs nearly $60,000 to “get by.”
State policies play a big role in helping families to achieve this sense of economic security. Yet a new scorecard from Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) has found that most states don’t have a comprehensive policy regime. While some stand out in a few areas, no state has fully addressed all of the needs of working families.
Looking at 85 different policies, including the minimum wage, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), family and sick leave, public education spending, savings and retirement support, and support for child care, health care, and housing, the scorecard granted each state a grade on “their potential to improve the economic security of workers, families, and retirees.” No state in the country received an A or B grade – the highest, for Washington, was a B-. Most states received grades between a C+ and a C-, while four got the lowest, a D+. An overview of how each state fared can be found in this map:
The states that fared best are those that have strong policies on the minimum wage and EITC. Many states also improved their grades thanks to policies that promote savings and eliminate asset eligibility tests for social programs. Yet most fared poorly on family leave, paid sick days, flexible work arrangements, and unemployment insurance. Many still rely on the low federal floor set in these areas.
While some states may counter that their budgets are constrained, making it difficult to implement more robust policies, WOW’s report found that the grades were “not strongly related to a state’s median income, budget size or fiscal health.” Therefore, it found, “these factors do not define a state’s ability to improve its residents’ security.”
Many states have been pulling back on these investments, cutting spending on things like public education, child care, and higher ed, often in lieu of raising taxes. This report may provide evidence that there is room to improve policies to support working families.