Nearly half of Marion County families struggling to get by, report says

A new report from Indiana United Ways says that the number of Indiana households that cannot afford basic needs increased 10 percent from 2010 to 2016 as expenses for families rose faster than the cost of inflation.

The report, released Thursday, analyzes a portion of Indiana residents who it classifies as working but "asset-limited and income-constrained.” It found that 39 percent of Indiana households, or nearly 1 million, were either living in poverty or had income that exceeded the federal poverty level but was less than what’s necessary to cover the basic cost of living.

In Marion County, the situation was found to be even worse, with 47 percent of households falling into the category of impoverished or unable to meet basic needs. Of that percentage, 18 percent were found to be in poverty and 29 percent fell into the other category.

The report was put together through a collaboration of United Way organizations in 18 states and was individualized for each state. 

Statewide in Indiana, researchers determined that the basic household survival budget for a single adult requires an annual income of $19,620, or $9.81 per hour. A family with two parents, a preschooler and an infant requires income of $52,836, or $26.42 per hour.

Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana, said there’s “a lot of attention on the fact" that the statewide unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 10 percent in 2010 to 3.4 percent in July, "but there’s a whole segment of Indiana that is really struggling.”

“They have income coming in from jobs, but are really struggling to make ends meet even from a survival standpoint,” Murtlow said. “That’s not having any savings for emergencies or future goals like college for their children. It is really striking.”

Murtlow said one of the key challenges is that family costs have increased about 23 percent over the last decade, higher than the rate of inflation. At the same time, a bigger percentage of available jobs pay less than $20 per hour.

“You have a wage deflation effect for this population and a cost-of-living increase, and that’s why it’s catching more people,” Murtlow said. 

The income required to sustain a survival budget in Marion County or Hamilton County is higher than it is statewide, the report says.

For a basic budget for a single adult living in Marion or Hamilton counties, the monthly total budget is $1,728, requiring earnings of $20,736 per year or $10.37 per hour.

For families with two adults, an infant and a preschooler, the Marion County basic budget requires earnings of $56,844 per year, or $28.42 per hour; and in Hamilton County, $63,792 annually or $31.90 per hour.

“Those are much higher numbers than you tend to think about [being necessary],” Murtlow said.

Murtlow said United Way of Central Indiana is zeroing in on this group as it tries to work to keep more families out of poverty. Waiting until an emergency medical bill or unexpected expense puts them in an untenable situation is “a lost opportunity,” she said.

“We tend not to focus on the families who are one step away until they fall into the poverty level during some type of crisis,” Murtlow said. “Our goal is to bring together partners in the human services sector to work together in new ways to really make a difference in the lives of these families.”

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