In every U.S. state, Americans are struggling to get by in large part because their state governments aren’t doing enough to ensure they have a livable wage or the benefits necessary to make life affordable, according to the Economic Security Scorecard, a report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Wider Opportunities for Women.
The scorecard, which ranks states on effectiveness in promoting policies that provide economic security — including a livable minimum wage, quality jobs that offer benefits like paid sick leave and government programs offering child care assistance and housing help — gave no state an “A.” Four states received the report card’s lowest grade of “D+.”
The report’s findings indicate states are focusing on individual policies like raising the minimum wage or guaranteeing housing preservation, which can be easily “undermined” when they aren’t combined with other initiatives aimed at boosting economic security overall, Shawn McMahon, Wider Opportunities for Women’s acting chief executive, told The Huffington Post. The result is a piecemeal system that leaves many states unaffordable for struggling residents, putting the nation’s economy at risk.
“Individuals and families need more than one element of economic security to actually be secure,” McMahon said. “When a state ignores certain areas of policy, both the individual citizens and the state as whole will likely at some point in the future pay the price.”
One of those Americans already paying the price is April Thomas, a 31-year-old mom supporting her three kids on an $8-per-hour wage. Thomas receives food stamps, but said she still struggles to find the money to pay the $28 per month to cover her government-subsidized childcare and has had to ask co-workers for help pay her rent.
“My checks aren’t anything, I had to tell my daughter last month that I couldn’t get her a birthday present,” Thomas told HuffPost.
Thomas lives in St. Louis, one of the worst areas for economic security, according to the Wider Opportunities for Women report. Missouri ranks 42nd out of all 50 states, according to the scorecard, and the state scored a “C-.”
But even in states that provide relatively good economic security, residents still struggle. Vickii Sibley lives in New York, ranked ninth on Wider Opportunities for Women’s list. Still, she comes up about $50 short of covering her expenses every month, despite having a job and receiving some government support.
“I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul all the time,” Sibley, 36 and supporting her son, told HuffPost. “I’m always late, I’m always shifting things.”
Sibley and Thomas’ experiences are not only troubling for them, they pose a danger to the rest of the country as well, McMahon said. That’s why state governments need to develop policies that don’t just change programs at the “micro level,” but instead boost economic security as a whole, he said.
“We’ll see that a lot of workers have trouble in the workforce whether it’s gaining employment, keeping employment, caring for their families as necessary and really it weakens the entire economy,” McMahon said.
Despite concerns over tight state and local budgets in the wake of the economic downturn, the report found that a state’s economic security had little to do with its fiscal health.
“Our research suggests it’s something else,” McMahon said. “We think that primarily a matter of political will, that’s what it comes down to ultimately. We do know that policy is always a budgetary issue, always a matter of money on some level, but money is not the determining factor.”
Check out Wider Opportunities for Women’s full report, including all state rankings, below: