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5/31/2012 6:00:00 AM
Where does your Mohave County family fall?
Sheree Alejo at her home within the room where magic is made – the kitchen.
Sheree Alejo at her home within the room where magic is made – the kitchen.
“How much is enough in your county? The self-sufficiency standard for Arizona 2012,” by Diana Pearce. (P. 60)/Courtesy
“How much is enough in your county? The self-sufficiency standard for Arizona 2012,” by Diana Pearce. (P. 60)/Courtesy

Ahron Sherman
Miner Staff Reporter

Sheree Alejo, a single mother of four, works full time for a Kingman call center and makes $8.50 an hour. That comes to about $17,680 a year before taxes.

According to "How much is enough in your county? The self-sufficiency standard for Arizona 2012," a comprehensive look at what it takes for families of different sizes to meet basic needs in each of Arizona's 15 counties, Alejo doesn't make enough money to provide her children with the basics.

The self-sufficiency standard is a measure of income adequacy based on the costs of the basic needs for working families: housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, and other items as well as the cost of taxes and the impact of tax credits. It is a measure of what it takes to raise a family without public or private assistance. The study is authored by Diana Pearce, the director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work, and was prepared for the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona. This marks the second time the study has been conducted, the first being in 2002. The Women's Foundation for Southern Arizona didn't commission the original study, but the methodology used then remains the same now.

For Arizona, 70 family types were measured. Alejo's family type, which includes her and her four children ranging in ages from 7-13, was not measured. It can, however, be compared to ones that were, such as the one adult and three school age children cohort. According to the study, the head of this family type needs to make $25.27 an hour to provide the basics. Imagine what adding another child to the measure would do to the wage, and you have a good idea of Alejo's situation.

Alejo receives several types of assistance, both private and public. She receives between $400 and $600 a month for food from Arizona's Nutritional Assistance (food stamps) program, and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System covers all four of her children's health care needs. Without food assistance, Alejo would have a much tougher time feeding her children.

In 2010, she moved from California with her children to Kingman. Her brother owns a large, three bedroom home here and agreed to rent it to her for $750 a month, which is far less expensive than renting a home of comparable size in California.

"I wanted a slow life for my kids and affordable living," she said.

Other than that help and the cash aid she received for the three months between her moving here and getting a job, Alejo doesn't get any other form of public assistance. She holds the same job today that she was hired for in 2010. She does, however, receive several forms of private assistance. For instance, Alejo doesn't own a car and often gets back-and-forth to work - unless she gets a ride from a friend - by walking. Her schedule changes frequently. Some days she starts at 5 a.m. while on others she doesn't get off work till 11 p.m.

"I have lots of coworkers and friends who help," Alejo said, pointing to the countless rides she's received in her two years working there. On nights when she doesn't get off until 11 p.m., she can go to her boss for a taxi voucher. The latest she's had to walk home is 9:30 p.m.

Alejo's mother moved from California to help her watch the kids when Alejo has to work. Before her arrival, there were days where she kept her two oldest home from school in order to walk the two youngest to the bus stop. Since Alejo's mother arrived, that has not occurred.

Obviously, Alejo lives far below the Federal Poverty Level, which is set at $27,010 annually for a family of five. But that's not the case with some families, as many live below the self-sufficiency standard and above the FPL.

In Mohave County, the annual self-sufficiency standard for one adult raising a preschooler and a school-aged child is $42,556, while the FPL for a family of three is $19,090 annually. To qualify for Arizona's Nutritional Assistance program, one must gross less than 130 percent for the FPL. For a family of three, that's $24,817 a year.

Laura Penny, the executive director for the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona, said there's a policy gap for people above the FPL and below the self-sufficiency standard. In this case, the gap is $17,739.

"We are not providing enough assistance to the people in the middle," Penny said, adding that many people are getting disqualified for state assistance because they make too much money, yet they're still not making enough to be self-sufficient.

Of the top 10 occupations in the state - based on numbers of people employed in each profession - only two (registered nurses and general and operations managers) pay self-sufficient wages. The median wage for registered nurses is $31.64 an hour, which shakes out to about $72,053 a year. According to the study, there are 44,710 people working as registered nurses in the state. The 42,860 people in the state working as general and operations managers make a median wage of $41.29 an hour, which is about $85,872 a year.

To shrink the self-sufficient wage gap, education as well as business recruiting needs to be addressed, Penny said.

"What kind of jobs do we want in the state, and how do we educate people for them?" Penny said.

When offering incentives to companies in order to entice them to move to Arizona, what these companies plan to pay their employees needs to be accounted for, Penny said. When tax credits are offered to companies that don't pay their employees self-sufficient wages, those employees often end up qualifying for public assistance. In instances like these, the taxpayer is not benefited, she said.

There needs to be a concerted effort to attract businesses to Arizona that actually pay, Penny said. A substantive conversation at the state level regarding the people working extremely hard yet not making enough money could do wonders.

"Do we really want 10-year-olds taking care of 6-year-olds after school" because the parent cannot afford childcare? Penny asked.

The FPL is an outdated way to measure who needs public assistance, she said.

"Only the people living in desperate poverty are getting help with food," Penny said. That's neither bad nor good. It's reality, she added.

The goal of the study, Penny said, is to provide a tool with which people can ask their elected officials as well as those hoping to get elected what they plan to do to close this gap. It can also be used to educate employers.

For instance, the mother with no childcare is forced to miss work more often while the mother who can't afford to feed her children will be less productive because of stress and inadequate nutrition. Not being able to meet your children's basic needs often decreases work productivity, which affects a business's bottom line, she said.

"We need to look at the bigger picture," Penny said, adding that it's easy to say there's no money to increase some wages without understanding the implications.

To get people moving toward self-sufficiency, education is key, Penny said. That doesn't strictly mean 4-year degrees, as plenty of jobs are to be had by obtaining 2-year degrees and/or specific certifications.

"Education of any kind that improves the abilities of workers is a good investment for the state," Penny said.

According to the study, the price to pay for basic needs has increased by about 30 percent since the study was first conducted in 2002. This fact applies upward pressure to the self-sufficiency standard. In 2002, a single parent raising a preschooler and a school-aged child needed to make $16.31 to meet her family's basic needs.

For Alejo, it's all about budgeting. Although she admits to making the occasional budgetary mistake - such as taking the kids out for a burger - she maintains that making ends meet takes constant focus. The most stressful financial times, she said, are birthdays, seasonal changes (have to buy new clothes) and the first day of school (clothes and school supplies). She'll bargain with her older children to forego presents on their birthday by promising a nice gift or two during tax time.

Like other single mothers, tax time means more money for Alejo. She receives a good chunk of change each year on her federal tax return, as she files for the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit - which tops out at $5,891 for a single-parent family with three or more children - and as head of household. Tax returns are also accounted for within the self-sufficiency standard. With that money, Alejo will pay all of her bills, which amount to over $300 a month, down to the penny and then pay several months in advance as well in order to provide a cushion once the "extra" money runs out.

Alejo would like to improve her lot in life, but admits that she lacks the determination to do so. This usually comes back to how much energy she has.

"I'm always tired," she said, adding that much of her exhaustion comes from the odd hours she works, and the effort she puts in to raising her children. She has a General Education Degree and an administrative assistant certification, but getting a new job or more education takes time and energy - both of which she lacks.

"More assistance should go to the people who are working, and less should go to the people who aren't trying," she said. "Help the people who're helping themselves."

Whether it's educational programs to increase work skills, a little help with child care and transportation needs or even some affordable summer vacation programs for the kids, Alejo said more programs for working parents could make a big difference in people's quality of life. All in all, though, the Alejo clan is a happy one.

"My kids are worth the struggles," Alejo said. "They're worth walking home from work. They're worth leaving my family behind in California to come to Kingman. We're a team."


To view the study in its entirety, including its methodology, data tables and explanations, visit

You can also see a spreadsheet of all 70 family types measured at

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Article comment by: Frank Harris

Thank you, Sheree for putting yourself out there for this story. It is too bad people want to pick on you instead of addressing the issue presented - need for $20/hr jobs.

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012
Article comment by: Frank Harris

Single Parent Child, congratulations for your determination and hard work. And congratulations to your mom for molding a fine citizen.

I suspect there are 100 times as many that fall into this category. Once on government assistance for a short period of time because of unemployment or illness. Now productive citizens. There should be more programs that focus on getting our young people to be meaningful members of our country as opposed to the emphasis on war and military expenditures. But how would we possibly fill the miliary quotas if there were good employment options.

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012
Article comment by: Max Gibbons

I am 17 my mom makes less than $10,000 a year those stats are wrong for annual income

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

One has to love these Looney Tunes who think job market is good when its a fact there are 1 job for every 5 applicants in the USA! I am not math genius, got no college degree's but my simple high school math tells me 1 job will only give 1 of them 5 a job and leave 4 with out one! I think some who make derogatory comments about this lady or the poor in general have a rude awakening one day when they meet Jesus! I don't think I envy them their meeting! If we get Romney in 2012 and he does what he says look for more unemployment and maybe they will do a Herbert Hoover repeat of 1928!

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012
Article comment by: Nice Chuckle


You made an incorrect statement which you got called on. You then try to hide said ignorance with insults and attacks. If you notice, I did not attack you or insult you in any way. That was you.

My statement stands as correct, therefore, it is pointless to continue being attacked by you, good day.

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012
Article comment by: JussMe Opinion

I know this family. There's no father involved, Sheree has no vehicle, she does walk to n from work, grocery store, etc...This is a case where it's a single mother busting her rump to provide for her children. She isn't the only family here in Kingman or across the US for that matter that is getting "food stamps". All the haters on here are just mad because you make $23 too much to get help for yourself. Yes some people get help and take advantage of it but Sheree is not one of them. If she has extra pennies she shops at ARC....where do you people shop? I too would like to know where there's a rental for $400 a month?

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012
Article comment by: R .

@ Nice Chuckle

You are welcome to stand by your ignorance in spite of what I just explained to you in verifiable detail. You're a regular troll on the KDM forums so I'd be a fool to continue addressing your nonsense beyond this point. Have a nice day.

Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2012
Article comment by: Nice Chuckle


Since there is no welfare office on Harrison, and St Vincent De Paul is a church affiliated group and not state, I stand by my statement. The welfare offices are downtown, and smoking is not permitted in them, so you could not have seen someone smoking in line there.

As for the other places you were at, did you get a handout? Were you smoking as well?

Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2012
Article comment by: R .

@Nice Chuckle

There was a huge line of people, and all were required to stand outside of the low income apartment complex lobby/business center on Harrison Street for hours and hours because the year before during one of these welfare events held at this location, one of the wonderful recipients of free money vandalized the bathroom!

And furthermore go take a look at St Vincent DePaul, there's a line there too, hanging out the door, with the same people I mentioned. Not sure what cozy indoor welfare line you're thinking of but if you know not what you speak, then don't speak at all!

Posted: Saturday, June 2, 2012
Article comment by: Kathie Sews

Re :Jon Wynn:

I have been looking for a job for the past weeks filling out applications and not place has call me for an interview. On the other hand, my cousin who lives in Idaho has had several interviews and job offers and she has refuse every job offer. The reason why is because she makes more money on her "extend" unemployment.

The only time I collected unemployment was 1980's when I was living in Calif and it was for only 13 weeks and if a person was offer a job and they refuse the job offer the person lost their unemployment. ( I only collection unemployment for a week).

Posted: Saturday, June 2, 2012
Article comment by: Nice Chuckle

"Many of the people in line were loaded with fresh tattoo ink and were puffing on ciggies!"

Since it is a non smoking building, that statement cannot possibly be true.

I am still waiting for the complainers and naysayers to produce a listing for a rental for 400.00/month that is big enough for a family.

Posted: Saturday, June 2, 2012
Article comment by: Kingman Needs good jobs

Kingman needs jobs!!! What is the City doing about it? Quit funding tourism, which will be here no matter what! Start putting some money in bringing in high paying jobs. Start working on Kingman Crossing and get it built to bring shopping and jobs. What is the new council going to do? Ms Gordon was a big proponent of economic development, will it go down the drain now?

Posted: Saturday, June 2, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

I find amusement sometimes in "whiners", when I was in Tucson I was paying for gas inside a gas station a angry Fed Ex driver came in complaining to the clerk her gas pumps were pumping to slow, likely a technical issue, but then he went into a rant, rave it was all Obama's fault, yesterday at post office listened to a lady argue with another lady over the economy being so bad was all Obama's fault, she convienantly left out Bush Jr was in power when it collapsed, folks will find anything to whine about as if it will make their misery go away! If one is unhappy, miserable look in the mirror for the source of your misery & unhappiness! Be glad you woke up this morning, somewhere every day someone does not!

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: R .

@ JustAnne Opinion
Did you ever consider that it was NOT and that she spent money that could've been used for important things? Many of these "broke" people live better than you and I. The kids have the latest video game systems and top of the line shoes. I accompanied an acquaintance in a welfare line here in Kingman and watched people pulling up in cars with flashy 22 inch rims. Many of the people in line were loaded with fresh tattoo ink and were puffing on ciggies! A big problem with many of these people is that they don't know how to manage money...when the money comes free, you don't respect it!

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: single mommy

Maybe she has a job cus she didn't waste her time on the internet judging and looked for a job!! If their gonna help..why not help them that are helping themselves! And maybe the Dad are not worth the mention, and plus the story is not about them. I'm a single mom who lives this exact life!! You go Sheree... rather then sit in a trailor park doing nothing!

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Leave it to the anti-growth folks

I can't believe that all of you are pointing your fingers at this family. Just where does your family fall into the poverty line? That's right. This woman is just one example of many here who are not making a living, but who are just eking by. And collecting what they can off of the government just in hopes of making ends meet. Mohave County needs JOBS!

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Trained observer

Its nice that there are so many smug and judgmental people in this area. You don't know why she left CA or what happened to her husband. Maybe he is in prison and she doesn't want her children to be ashamed about it. She seems to be doing the best she can and I really wonder where that $400 a month rental is that would house a family of five. If you people aren't happy with her situation, why don't you offer her a job that pays a real wage? You would never dream of offering a man w/ 4 kids a job that paid that little.

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Anonymous ..

Wow! I am stunned by the figures in this story.

My first question, was this woman married? If so, does her husband contribute to the care of the children? The father(s) of the children were not mentioned at all. Why was that? The father is normally the head of the household and it is his income that is normally lived on so what is up with that.

Next, how did she get a job so quickly. I have years of working experience and have been unable to find steady work for two years.

If she makes nearly $18,000 a year, she is getting $7200.00 in food stamp money. That is a lot quite frankly.

I live on $839.00 a month and did get an extra $385.00 from a side job that is now gone. My rent is $700 a month. You do the math. Let's just say some days there is a squash in the fridge from the neighbors garden and not much more.

This lady seems rich compared to my own situation.

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Jackie Girl

Keep up the good work Sheree.

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Vote Democrat

re: Total Garbage

"I pay my own Medicare every month"

Did you know that the state will pay your Medicare part B premiums? I think the income cutoff is $1133 a month (130% of poverty wage). You may not get AHCCCS, but that alone will save you $100 a month. It`s the building on Beale St, NOT at the welfare office.

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

As a retired middle class person still say many folks will be meeting Jesus one day and he will not know you, ignore the poor, hungry, naked those sick and in prison at the peril of your immortal soul! But for the grace of god there go I!

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: JustAnne Opinion

Wow... some of the remarks here are scathing and sooooo judgemental!

@ R..... "Mom's Kitchen" placard??? Really. Did you ever consider that it was a gift, or purchased at a second hand store for 25 cents? What a hostile, petty little comment!

@ Jon Wynn... "Some of the training tax the EMPLOYER pays should be going back to the employer to offer education incentives for employee's to better THEMSELFS"... Yes, an education incentive to learn how to spell (THEMSELVES).

@ Just Saying... "I am also tired of women having children they can not afford and the fathers that just walk away and do not help financially!".... Gee... I had a child when I was married to the father and assumed I would stay married and have his help & support in raising our child... Guess what? He decided to bail, racked up our credit cards (forced me to file bankruptcy) and I've been struggling ever since to raise this child on my own. Court system??? Obviously you've never had to try and collect child support.

I agree the article should have reported on whether or not this woman receives any child support. Also, she is darn lucky to have a family member to rent from but could be paying less rent in subsidized housing.

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: single parent child

To all those people who are railing on her because she is a single parent and getting food stamps. You have no business to degrade her. Is the system broke? You bet. But for all the people that complain that people who are on wellfare are lazy, here is someone that is receiving welfare, but is working hard to help and provide for her kids. She is doing what the system was designed for instead of just living off it.
I grew up in a single parent home where my mom worked to provide for me. I saw how my friends would be going on family vacations and getting the coolest toys but yet we couldn’t because we never could afford it. Our vacation was driving 2 hours to go see grandma.
But it’s because of this bringing up that made me work hard, graduate high school and put myself through college. I would’ve never been able to go to college if it wasn’t for the federal financial aid system and now I’m working, making a decent wage.
There also been times that I was on food stamps right after I graduated college, living on my own and looking for a job. But as soon as I got a job, I was off food stamps. Thank you the state of Arizona for your assistance when I needed it the most, but now that I don’t need, give it to someone that needs it more than I do.

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Economics 101

OK great, now that Ca is out of money, they will be showing up on our door step, bankrupting our state...
$750/ month rent on $8 dollars an hour pay, how about renting a $400/ month home and getting off the food stamps!
Simple economics 101...
This is why America is going DOWN!

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012
Article comment by: Total Garbage

I was disqualified from AHCCCS because my GROSS disability amount was $23 too much, not even taking into consideration that I pay my own Medicare every month which puts my NET monthly income far below the AHCCCS limit! The rules are convoluted and the system is simply screwed up!

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