I have this recurring nightmare. It began about 12 years
ago, when I gave birth to my second child and I realized just how complex my
life had become. Of course, it got even scarier—the nightmare, that is—when
I popped out our third child nine years ago, and my window of productivity shrank even more.
Maybe you’ve had this bad dream, yourself. If so, you know
what I’m about to say. The nightmare is simply this: Something awful happens
to my husband, and I become the main breadwinner for our three-kid household.
I always tell myself I’d ramp up somehow, and we’d find a
way to simply get by on less. But a new report issued by the Economic
Policy Institute has just confirmed my worst fears. Los Angeles, our
hometown, is pricey, and I can’t afford it on my own.
According to the EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, a
family of two adults and three children in the LA-Long Beach metro area would
need an annual minimum income of $92,312 to live “free of serious economic
deprivation.” And LA isn’t even the most expensive area in the country. New
York City costs more. So does Orange County, just a few miles to my
south. Still, my city’s costly enough for me. Here, specifically, is how the EPI calculator breaks that Los Angeles
Monthly Child Care
Monthly Health Care
Monthly Other Necessities
(Numbers courtesy of the EPI’s Family Budget Calculator)
If this gives any of you pause, it should. First off, it
confirms what many of us recall from adolescence—McDonald’s jobs are for
teenagers. That’s because only a teenager, with the comforts of home at her
back, can manage to get by on $15,080, the annual salary for a full-time,
minimum wage worker (according to the EPI’s calculator, that's $4,468 short of
our family’s minimum health care bill, alone). It also calls into question the
federal poverty threshold, at least in Los Angeles. The government currently
defines poverty as $27,570
for a family of five.
The U.S. Census recently came up with a “supplemental poverty
measure” that takes into account the higher cost of living in certain parts of
the country. Utilizing this lens, California’s official 2012 poverty rate surged from 16.3 percent
to 23.5 percent. However, the SPM has no bearing on eligibility for federal
benefits, which are determined by the lower poverty numbers mentioned earlier,
and it does not take into account wide variations that can occur even in places
like California. Up north, in rural Redding, for instance, the
calculator estimates we’d pay $500 less in rent; one county over, in Ventura,
our rent would jump by about $150.
So if you live in a big city, and you wonder why the income
that sounded so bountiful years ago (back in your pre-child days) suddenly seems like it does less than you’d imagined, well, you have reason to think so. Kids are expensive, and
exponentially more so in America’s wealthiest metropolitan areas.