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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: Thursday, May 31, 2012


Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Roshanda R

Well done, Sheree! I admire your hard work and ability to care for your children. Keep it up!

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: educated women

I think this article was well written and is an eye opener as to what jobs are paying in Kingman. If you read the article Sheree isnt asking for "free" anything but for assistance with other things. I have a two small children of my own and we can easily spend more than that in groceries especially in the summer. Times have changed, cost of living is way more than it used to be. Utilities alone are outrageous!! I believe that most definitely the people that are working and trying to do right by their kids should get some assistance ( nothing is for free)

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Single Mother

I am a single mother and I DO NOT receive state aide! Yes it is hard to get by with my wages, but I still do it and my children do not go without food.
$400-$600 a month in food stamps! I would bet that the grocery cart is full of soda and chips!!
I am all for those receiving help for a TEMPORARY time until they get on their feet! With that much in food stamps, why be motivated to do any better! Why rent from a "family" member for $750/month, I guarantee that she could find a 3 bedroom somewhere that is less and use that extra $100 towards food!
It's called watching your money and spending responsibly! My children have the necessities and when I am able to budget that extra money, they get rewards or something special!

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: justanobody sr

THATS why the US and AZ are so popular, we continue to give free medical and free food to people who didn't EARN IT!.
I paid all my life into social security, and am drawing a very small % compared to what I paid in,.
yet there are people who receive SS AND HAVE NEVER PAID IN A DIME!!!!!!
does it frost my cookies? you bet!

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Bart Simpson

Some people might opt to forego having children, until they could afford to raise them. Just saying...

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: paul veloz

when a worker makes 8.25hr it is sad pepole that live in mohove dont make much why.decause ther are no jobs in kingman. we hear the city say shop hear but whats in this town nothing just a wal-mart if the city would just get more good paying jobs in kingman we all be better if lake havsu can do it so can kingman

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: R .

Maybe if single parents stuck with the necessities --instead of spending money on things like placards that say "Mom's Kitchen"-- they could survive on less than $20 an hour. Just a thought.

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Joe Blow

The really sad part of this article is that things are going to get worse. Wages are not going to go up but prices for most all things will.

People will have to pinch every penny they have. Kudos to the Daily Miner web site ... if you look up at the top right under the "Extras" pull down menu, you can find some really good buys, coupons, etc. It does save a few dollars every week.

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Just Saying

The article does not mention of any help or child support from the Father(s) of the children. They are just as responsible for these children as she is. If she is not receiving any $$, she needs to take them to court and start getting some!!

Also, they might be required to provide medical insurance for their child.

I totally feel for her and her situation, but I am also tired of women having children they can not afford and the fathers that just walk away and do not help financially!

My husband makes a very good income, and even though I had wanted another baby, we stopped at what we could comfortably afford to take care of and raise properly.

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Jon Wynn

This article hits the nail on the head. All the money is going to people who CHOOSE to be out of work and/or refuse to look for a job. While many employer's do get tax credits for hiring many do not and are in fact being punished by having to pay an additional unemployement tax levy because of the money Arizona received from the Federal Government to "extend" unemployement for 2 years. Employer's are always the scape goat for Government and have no choice/vote when it comes to these additional taxes. 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 and then they can pay the employee's more because they are an asset to the employer.

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: No Name

I'm a single mother of two children and make under 27,000 a year. I do not qualify for any assistance. I struggle to make ends meet every month. The price of rentals, water and utilities here do not coincide with the hourly wage people are paid here. The price of food here is also expensive compared to other cities in Arizona or even across the United States. I like to know why the cost of living here is so high but its near next to impossible to find a job that pays well!!

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Article comment by: Vote Democrat

Not one mention in the article about the father (s) of the children. Why is no child support being paid? And I see other red flags. Who`s to say her brother isn`t providing her a rent receipt for $750, while letting her stay there for free? I`m all for helping people out that really need it, but I agree with the Republicans on this one. SELF SUFFICIENCY.

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