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Study finds many jobs in region won't support families

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Paul and Anna Travaglione debated: Should they buy a bike helmet for their son? Safety won over their concerns about the outlay of cash. But decisions such as that are daily debates in households like the Travaglione...

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Paul and Anna Travaglione debated: Should they buy a bike helmet for their son?

Safety won over their concerns about the outlay of cash. But decisions such as that are daily debates in households like the Travagliones' that have limited incomes. Paul has a job that pays $11 per hour. Anna stays home to look after their kindergarten-age son and 4-month-old daughter.

They say they're doing all right financially now -- they have no debt, Paul said -- but the children are on Medical Assistance. That, Anna said, is a big help with their budget. "If you wanted to do it on your own, it would be pretty hard," she said.

The Travagliones' income is slightly less than the amount calculated by an employment policy advocacy group for what a family of four in the Arrowhead region requires to meet basic needs. The region includes Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties.

According to the soon-to-be-released study by the St. Paul-based Jobs Now Coalition, a family in the region with two adults and two children with one adult working full time needed an income of $11.86 per hour based on 2006 data. That's $24,666 annually.

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In St. Louis County, the amount needed rises to $12.46, or $25,920 a year.

The figures exclude savings, recreation, meals in restaurants, vacations and other luxuries.

The range of required income is large. In the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, the requirement for the hypothetical family is $17.30 per hour. In southwestern Minnesota, it's $10.87 per hour. Outside the metro area, the average income required for the basic needs budget for the hypothetical family is $13.79 per hour.

The budget includes food, housing, health care, transportation, child care when both parents work, clothing and net taxes. The family is assumed to have a toddler and a school-age child.

In the Arrowhead region, 42 percent of jobs pay less than $11.86, according to the study. Costs include $569 for food, $667 for housing and $442 for transportation.

The Jobs Now Coalition has about 100 nonprofit members throughout the state and operates under the premise that workers should be able to earn a family-supporting wage. It advocates for issues such as raising the minimum wage. The study, "The Cost of Living in Minnesota," is based on several sources, most of it government data, and revised every two years.

The survey is "an effort to create a new measure" for the discussion of what a decent wage is, said Kevin Ristau, Jobs Now education director and a study author. "From the beginning, we've made these budgets really austere. There's no fun in these budgets."

A family of four with two parents working full time needs income of considerably more than the one-income family of four. The report says that family in the Arrowhead region needs more than $42,000 a year, with each adult making $10.21 per hour, to meet basic needs, the study said. Taxes, transportation and child care, which is $728 a month, are more costly for the two-wage family.

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A single adult living in Northeastern Minnesota requires an income of $9.81 per hour, or $20,414 per year, for a no-frills budget, the study said.

Two years ago, the amount needed for the hypothetical four-member, one wage-earner family in the Arrowhead was $13.21 per hour. Some costs in the Jobs Now budgets have decreased since then, including housing and health care.

Job openings fell 5 percent from the fourth quarter of 2004 to the same period of 2006, according to figures from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Furthermore, DEED figures show that in the fourth quarter of 2006, the median wage offer in the region was $9.31 per hour, or $2.55 less than the four-person, one-earner family needs -- and 50 cents an hour less than the single person needs.

The data will be sent to legislators and the media, Ristau said. It also is used by nutrition educators for the University of Minnesota Extension Service when they help low-income families with their food budgets, said Lori Hendrickson, regional extension educator in Grand Rapids. "It's a fairly good estimator in general," she said.

With costs high and wages low, it is difficult for families with such low incomes to save money regularly, she said. When faced with an unexpected expense, they have no way to pay for it except to borrow. And that's when many families find themselves in trouble, she said.

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