Using research to promote economic security, health, and well-being

This post is based on a session I attended at the Iowa Governor’s Conference on Public Health in April 2013 by Lily French, MSW . For More posts from the Governor’s Conference, click here.   For presentation slides, click on Presentation Slides. For more information on cost of living in Iowa, visit



When reviewing the cost of living in Iowa, how hard is it for families to survive?

Total basic expenses in Iowa are over $35,000, without debt, savings, entertainment, gifts, or emergencies. This is a survival budget, not a thriving budget. This single parent needs to earn $17-24/hour depending on the number of their children.

Childcare, housing, and transportation remain large portions of budget. These are places where public health changes can help to impact.

In Iowa, cost of living exceeds median wages , unless both parents are working or you have no children.

Federal poverty guidelines were calculated in 1965 when women didn’t work (no need for childcare!), housing number is consistent in all of the United States (It definitely costs the same to live anywhere in the US!), and transportation is negligible. Federal poverty level assumes food cost times three. Now, food is not 1/3 of the budget, but more like 1/6 or 1/7.

If we measure it differently, then ‘Poverty levels double’ becomes a headline, which looks bad on the elected officials. Poverty levels didn’t double overnight, but the public won’t understand it. If you measure poverty correctly, you have to fund it.

23% of households of working Iowans are not making enough to reach basic thresholds. 12% of married couples don’t make enough to survive at basic levels. 74% of WORKING single parents are not making enough to get by.


  • Community and strategic planning to monitor trends
  • Grant proposals for services needed – Addresses needs
  • self eligibility limits for your own programs – Poverty level x2? x3?
  • Talking with legislators to provide information – Share the needs of working families and advocate for policies that make work pay
  • Design programs that meat financial gaps and create pathways to self-sufficiency – addressing largest expense gaps
  • Advise clients on accessing public supports and workforce development strategies

Bike & Build is an organization that works with Habitat for Humanity to promote sustainable housing.

Work Support Programs – Food and childcare assistant, tax credits, etc. They help people when you make $8-10/hr, but above that, they don’t make enough to cover basic expenses, but supports disappear. Right now, programs help but are not sustainable.

“We can’t legislate that households much have 2 working parents”

Affordable care act meant that some companies began cutting hours to avoid ACA requirements.

“This stuff [How much do you have to earn] wasn’t covered in Home Ec.”

This information is just looking at SURVIVAL.


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