By Jeff Cox


Pathways PA, a services and advocacy organization for women, children and families, today released its Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania 2010-2011. The organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer Carol Goertzel explained, “The standard examines for every county in Pennsylvania 70 configurations of family and what it costs to support your family without using the supports that low-wage workers need.” It is based on the cost of each basic need in each county for food, housing, healthcare, child care, transportation and taxes. According to Goertzel, “One of the most important ways of using the standard is to really raise the level of income you can have earned in order to have accessible training because we know up-skilling is needed for our families.” She added, “People don’t have the educational skills and the workplace skills and it is very hard to move up to get a job to earn a family sustaining wage.”


Secretary of Labor and Industry Sandi Vito described the standard as “a crucial tool for the department and for all administrators of programs in the Commonwealth, legislators, and others who serve the public.” She said, “What the document helps us to do is work with individuals and families so they know what the income is that they need to make in order to support their families.” Secretary Vito also said, “What is even more remarkable about the standard is that it looks at differences in regions and differences in family size to help us determine what particular income an individual needs to make.” She commented, “We all know we have a half a million unemployed in Pennsylvania but one of the things that is not often talked about in this recession is that even those people who are going back to work are often having to take jobs at a lesser salary than they once made.” She said the standard “helps us to create career pathways for individuals to move them out of poverty and out of lower wage jobs into family sustaining jobs.” Noting the department’s industry partnerships, Secretary Vito added that the standard “really helps us to inform our training and education programs and helps us move people from either no job or into jobs that support their families.”


Austin Burke, recently nominated by Governor Rendell to be Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, spoke about his experience as chairman of the Lackawanna County Workforce Development Investment Board. He said the standard “is of great value to our operations at the board and is also great value to our success in Lackawanna County.” Burke argued, “Our workers need and deserve family sustaining wages and our businesses need and deserve workers that bring job enhancing skill sets to the workplace.” He emphasized, “The key to higher wages is education.” According to Burke, “The key is the development of skills in our workers so they can add value to their business operations.” He went on to say the standard as utilized by the board “allows us to identify incumbent workers who are eligible for intensive training services.”


Joe Ostrander, Communications Director for the Community Action Agency of Pennsylvania, said that from his association’s standpoint, the standard “is important because it is a fantastic advocacy tool when we are speaking with any type of local official, any state representative or any federal representative we work with.” He pointed out that according to the standard, the lowest amount in the cheapest county to live is $23,913 for an adult and pre-schooler while the federal poverty level for an adult and pre-schooler is almost $14,000. He described the difference as “just astounding.” Regarding the standard, Ostrander commented, “These are the types of formulations and these are the types of numbers we need to look at when we are looking at the true need of the working poor of Pennsylvania.” According to Ostrander, “We have a large number of people in this state who are underemployed and not earning up to their potential.” He said, “When we use the federal poverty line to look at eligibility for assistance for people, we are missing a whole sector of people.” Ostrander concluded, “Our agencies use this publication to do true assessments of what the need is for their clients who come in to look for assistance in the various programs our member agencies offer.”