Here we are at the end of the holiday week. Wednesday commemorated the day in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. That document grounded its case for breaking away from England in human rights. We all know those famous words: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Over the years the Fourth of July has become a day for family and community — for picnics, fireworks, parades and social gatherings of all types. We all need those connections. I hope those of us fortunate to spend the day with friends and families used it to reflect and recharge, to be ready to advocate for human rights for all — for children separated from their parents, families fearful of engaging in their communities, and communities isolated from opportunity. 

— Anne Discher, executive director

Our friends at the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) released the first parts of its latest installment of “The Cost of Living in Iowa” this week. The report found that nearly 100,000 Iowa working households earn too little for a basic standard of living without public supports beyond health insurance.

Using 2017 data for various costs and 2018 health premium data, the IPP report examined basic-needs costs for families with at least one full-time working adult. Among the families types the report analyzed, single-parent working families face the biggest financial challenge. Over 60 percent of them live below the self-sufficiency level, compared with 17 percent of all working households. 

The report shows that what it takes to make ends meet is actually far above what the federal government defines as "poverty." In fact, a family-supporting income, even for a household with public or employer-provided health insurance, can be as much as three times the federal poverty level. 

You can read Parts 1 and 2 of the three-part analysis at The third part, examining the performance of public work supports to fill in gaps in household budgets, will be released later this summer.

Natalie Veldhouse, research associate with the Iowa Policy Project, co-authored "The Cost of Living in Iowa" report. She previously conducted education and health policy research with the University of Iowa Public Policy Center and coordinated research efforts for the Johnson County Hunger Task Force as a AmeriCorps VISTA.

Tell me the most important takeaway from the report.

Put simply, a large number of Iowans are unable to meet their basic needs. Even households with one or more working adults — roughly 100,000 families — struggle to make ends meet. Consequently, we see that work support programs are instrumental in bridging the gap between after-income and meeting basic needs.

Anything in the report you think would surprise Iowans?

It can be surprising to realize that families and households, even those with working adults, are still unable to get by. And that disparity is even larger for households with single parents.

Can you talk about the geographic differences across Iowa in what it takes for families to make ends meet?

We broke the state into four regions and found that southern Iowa struggles the most with bridging the gap. We also looked at how Iowans compare in urban and rural settings. Here, we didn’t see a large difference, which is probably due to tradeoffs in cost.

The report highlights that the percentage of households below the self-sufficiency level is greater for Hispanic and African American Iowans than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. What contributes to this inequality?

Unfortunately, these findings are not surprising; they align with national poverty trends. Research shows that though there are many factors, residential segregation, discrimination and housing inequality are major forces to consider. It’s important to understand these disparities so that we can make the best decisions and meet the needs of those impacted by these inequalities. 

How should the state of Iowa respond to these findings?

Our findings in this report is highlight how households can’t afford to get by on current wages. It makes sense to look at the state’s minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since 2008; even the median wage isn’t cutting it for families. Ultimately, we need to work together to ensure that hardworking Iowans are able to meet their basic needs.

The Center's policy director Sheila Hansen attended a July 2 town hall meeting with Senator Chuck Grassley in Fort Dodge. He drew a large crowd, with the Fort Dodge City Hall filled almost to capacity. The senator fielded questions on a variety of topics—Supreme Court nominees, immigration and the federal deficit. Sheila was able to thank him for his work on MIECHV, CHIP and foster care over the years. 


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