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.