What It Takes to Make It

It is not your imagination. It really has gotten much harder to make ends meet.

It's not your imagination. It really has gotten harder to make ends meet.

The federal poverty guidelines were first developed in 1965 and are based on the idea that a typical family spends one third of its monthly income on food. To this day, the federal poverty level is calculated the same way: the USDA publishes the estimated cost of a minimally nutritional diet and that number is then multiplied by three. These standards matter in that eligibility for many public benefits are calculated based on where your household stands. In Washington State, there was a 14.46% increase between 2020 and 2023, meaning a three-person household makes $24,860 a year.

Recognizing that these numbers didn’t make sense for the people most affected, Room One along with Little Star and Twispworks, had invited the University of Washington Center for Women’s Welfare to share their Self-Sufficiency Standard with the Methow Valley back in 2019. This calculation takes into account family makeup, ages of children, and geographic differences and determines the amount of income required for working families to “meet basic needs at a minimally adequate level”. For example, in Okanogan County in 2020, the self-sufficiency standard for a family of 3 (1 adult, 1 preschool child, 1 school-aged child) was $46,515/year. In 2023, for that same family, what it takes to minimally make ends meet rose to $71,726/year!

There’s not one clear factor to blame for this dramatic increase–every single area that is represented in the self-sufficiency calculation has increased since 2020. For example, based on data provided by the UW, the cost of healthcare has gone up by 70%, childcare, food, and transportation have all increased by 25-40%, and monthly housing has gone up 18%. Note that within the self-sufficiency calculations there are no allowances for debt payments, student loans, pets, travel, or anything but the most modest emergency. And the calculation quoted above of $71,726/year for the household assumes $1000/month rent, something that is exceedingly hard to come by in the Methow Valley.

And yet, we know that people are making it here. How, when according to the Twispworks Economic Study completed in 2021, we know the median household income for families who live and work in the Methow Valley is $57,779, with nearly 60% of working families earning less than $55,000 a year. We know from listening to clients, community members, and our own staff, that people make it here because they are resourceful, creative, and resilient. People grow or hunt their own food, join informal childcare cooperatives, offer work-trade for things they need, and they live in subsidized housing. These homes are sometimes subsidized by the state, by private organizations in the form of the Methow Housing Trust, and sometimes, just the grace of landlords who are able to ask for below market rate - and do because their values drive decisions to make it possible for working locals to stay here.

We want to hear from you! What creative approaches are you using to make it here in the valley? Let’s celebrate and share these solutions so we can figure out how to make this valley work for all.