What does it take? Oklahoma Self-Sufficiency Standard calculates what families need to get by

How much does an Oklahoma family have to earn to meet its basic needs? What are the major costs of a family budget, and how do these vary for different family types and in different parts of the state? How much of an impact can work  support programs like food stamps and SoonerCare have in bridging the gap between what families earn and what they need to get by?

The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Oklahoma [3 MB PDF], released last week, provides new data that can help answer these questions and many others. The Standard was developed by Dr. Diana Pearce of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington for the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition. The new report updates the original Oklahoma Self-Sufficiency Standard released in 2002. Over the years, the Standard has been used for a wide range of purposes, including career counseling, workforce development, grant-writing, research, and advocacy.

According to a press statement by Dr. Pearce:

The Self-Sufficiency Standard is a measure of income adequacy that gives detailed information on what it costs to live in different parts of Oklahoma, for families with different compositions… The Standard is the economic equivalent of the minimum daily requirements we see on food packages – the Standard is the minimum needed to adequately meet a family’s most basic needs.

Unlike the federal poverty level, the Standard is calculated based on the actual costs of basic needs – food, housing, health care, transportation, etc. – and takes into consideration geographic variations  and differences in costs for children of different age. The result is a report that calculates the Standard for eight family types (based on the number of working age adults and number and ages of children) for all 77 Oklahoma counties, plus Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

For a single-parent family with a preschooler, the report finds the self-sufficiency wage varies from a low of $11.42 per hour ($24,111 annually) in Grady County to a high of $16.54 per hour ($34,933 annually) in Tulsa County. For a two-parent working family with a preschooler and school-age child, the self-sufficiency wage ranges from $8.41 per hour ($35,515 annually) to $11.10 per hour ($46,686 annually).  These amounts are all substantially above the federal poverty level, which in 2009 was set at $18,310 for a family of three and $22,050 for a family of four.

Dr. Pearce emphasizes that the Standard is an important tool for establishing a realistic assessment of what it really takes to get by:

The Self-Sufficiency Standard tells us that families have a hard time meeting basic expenses not because they lack responsibility, work ethic, or budgeting skills, but because they lack enough income. Reaching Self-Sufficiency involves many stakeholders – not just parents working or employers paying adequate wages and benefits, but also the state providing work supports to reduce costs and absent parents paying child support.

As Steven Shepelwich, chair of the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition and senior community affair advisor for the Oklahoma City office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, noted in the Oklahoman article discussing the Standard,  “the report can help policymakers set more realistic guidelines, and provide a more accurate economic picture for Oklahomans considering career and family choices”.

The Self-Sufficient Standard is a useful complement to another recent report, the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, that OK Policy put out in September in conjunction with CFED and the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition.  Taken in conjunction with the federal poverty level, each of these tools gives a snapshot of different points on the economic spectrum. The poverty level shows a point well below that which is necessary to get by. The Self Sufficiency Standard gives us an accurate indication of what a specific family make-up in a specific county needs to break even. The Assets and Opportunity Scorecard tells us what it takes for a family to get ahead and create a better life for themselves and their children.

I think we can all agree that getting ahead should be the goal. It is the American dream that hard work will lead to financial security and a better life for the next generation. As we point out in our recent issue brief, assets are the financial resources and capacities that create financial security and provide the pathway to the middle class. Only when families are able to combine income and assets will they have what it takes not only just to get by but to get ahead.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

3 thoughts on “What does it take? Oklahoma Self-Sufficiency Standard calculates what families need to get by

  1. While I applaud the analysis involved, and calling attention to what the bare-bones, just-getting-by cost of living is, even in our least expensive counties, I wish more individuals and more thinktanks would take the time to understand the structures that produce poverty.

    Without that understanding, we can’t make good policy decisions. All we can do is put bandaids on the problem, not reform the structures that undergird and create poverty.

    The best text I know is Henry George’s landmark book on political economy, entitled “Progress and Poverty.” It is available online and also available in hardcopy via schalkenbach.org’s website. You might also look for two speeches — “The Crime of Poverty” and “Thou Shalt Not Steal” — and his book of essays entitled “Social Problems.”

    The SSS’s policy recommendations seem to me to nibble at the leaves of the problem. Henry George shows us its root, and shows how it can be hacked out. I commend it to the attention of all who are genuinely concerned about poverty.

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