Simulator shows what it’s like to earn less than a living wage in Bexar County



Imagine if you and your spouse earned $2,600 a month in Bexar County — could you afford the $1,200 needed to keep your two children in licensed daycare?

You’re already spending $850 on a two-bedroom apartment and $600 a month on food. Could you last through the end of the month financially if you had to go to the doctor, miss a few hours of work, or if your car broke down?

According to a new online budget calculator recently launched by United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, chances are you can’t.

There “Make tough choicesshows how working parents struggle to balance their family budget with basic needs and modest wants.

“Even though it’s gamified, it’s not a game,” said Jason Alemán, vice president of United Way’s Ready Children Impact Council. “It really is a [tool to] simulate what it’s like to make those tough choices every day and the impact of that.

In 2018, 35% of households (about 225,000) in Bexar County earned above the federal poverty level but below a living wage – meaning they are ineligible for most poverty programs. help, but still live paycheck to paycheck. These are the working poor.

This heat map shows where ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) families live in Bexar County (2018). Credit: Courtesy/United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County

“Once you get past that [poverty level]all those advantages mostly disappear and they have to fend for themselves,” Alemán said.

These low-income working families are referred to by United Way affiliates and family support service providers as having limited assets, limited income, employees or ALICE.

While the poverty rate has remained relatively stable (15-17%) between 2010 and 2018, ALICE families have grown from 25% to 35% of the county’s total population. That means 52% of all people in Bexar County don’t earn a living wage and have to make the tough choices depicted in the simulator, Alemán said.

ALICE data is processed every two years by United ALICE, but census data used for the nonprofit’s 2020 report has been delayed by the pandemic, he said. “We are anticipating 2020 data for [show an] increase in Alice’s population.

This graph shows the percentage of people below the federal poverty line in Bexar County compared to ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) from 2010 to 2018.
This graph shows the percentage of people below the federal poverty line in Bexar County compared to ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) from 2010 to 2018. Credit: Courtesy/United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County

United Way, which raises donations and allocates funds to programs that provide safety net services and emergency care, hopes to use the simulator to attract donors and raise awareness of the large number of County residents. Bexar who need a living wage, he said.

“One of our mantras is that you should be able to work 40 hours a week in San Antonio in a decent job and…not have to make those tough choices.”

Make the hard choices

The website’s simulator prompts users to select different options for employment (after being made redundant), housing, childcare, food, and transportation (bus or car).

Of the approximately 167 possible combinations, only one set of choices allows the user to pay monthly expenses and be able to afford licensed center child care, Alemán said.

Users who choose healthier (and therefore more expensive) foods will need to balance this need with the quality of child care.

“You start thinking about the decisions mom and dad have to make just to make ends meet and keep the lights on,” Alemán said.

The simulation also throws typical real-life financial curveballs at the user, like your stepdad who needs help paying for his medication, the bus you take to work broke down, or your spouse who has a pink eye.

“The good news is that your baby is feeling better after a quick stomach upset. The bad news is you’re not,” a prompt read. Do you call in sick (-$120), try to work half a day (-$60), or do you endure?

Just a few overpriced selections, and the simulation usually ends with the user running out of money. Making sacrifices means getting to the end of the month — sometimes with just a few dollars left over even after choosing not to enroll a kid in soccer or go out for a dinner party.

While the simulator relies on recent Bexar County pricing data, housing and child care costs had to be reduced from the average for the simulator to get by at least some users. until the end of the month.

“The reality is that with the price spike, you wouldn’t even be able to make it through the second week of the simulator” if he used the more recent higher cost estimates, Alemán said.

This graph shows the living wage required for different types of ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) in Bexar County.
This graph shows the living wage required for different types of ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) in Bexar County (2018). Credit: Courtesy/United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County

The tool was localized from a pattern that has been used across the United States The United Way of Texas has one toobut the local organization wanted to localize the data to show “how much it really costs to live here”, he said.

A member of the United Way Advisory Board who tested the simulator realized that “people make decisions based on their financial capacity and not based on their values. … They have to make these decisions that require them to buy processed foods and live in certain parts of town because they’re only doing what they can afford.

Michael A. Bynum