Rhode Island Standard of Need

November 17, 2022

Welcome to the 10th Edition of the Economic Progress Institute’s Rhode Island Standard of Need (RISN). EPI publishes the RISN every other year to answer two fundamental questions about the economic security or insecurity of Rhode Islanders:

1. What is the cost of meeting basic needs for families and individuals in Rhode Island?

2. How do state and federal work supports help households meet the cost of basic needs?

In this 2022 edition of the RISN, we pose three additional questions:

3. What are the racial and ethnic inequities in the ability of Rhode Island families to meet their basic needs?

4. How have policy and program changes in 2021 and 2022 helped improve economic security for Rhode Islanders?

5. How can Rhode Island’s policymakers sustain and build upon the progress of the last two years?

Far too many Rhode Islanders live with economic insecurity, unable to afford their most basic needs: housing, food, transportation, healthcare, and (for those with children) child care.

The Rhode Island Standard of Need provides a more accurate measure of economic well-being than the commonly used Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The FPL was developed in the 1960s and measures economic security based solely on the cost of food, which at the time represented a third of a family’s budget. Yet the FPL has never been revised to reflect today’s realities. Housing and child care, necessary for parents to work, take up a larger share of a household budget than does food. The Federal Poverty Level also fails to take into account the value of work support programs and tax credits that can help working families meet their expenses.

The Rhode Island Standard of Need calculates a household budget for families with two young children and for single adults. This no-frills budget includes the costs of housing, food, transportation, health care, child care, and other necessities such as clothing, toiletries, and telephone service. The RISN also demonstrates how work supports like food assistance, subsidies for child care and health care, and tax credits help close the gap between income and expenses for basic needs. By taking all these factors into account, the RISN provides a more realistic measure of the economic security — or, too often, insecurity — of Rhode Islanders than does the Federal Poverty Level.

With scenic beaches, culinary and arts communities, higher education institutions, and a vibrant celebration of culture, Rhode Island can be a wonderful place to live and to raise a family. Yet many Rhode Islanders work at jobs with wages that pay too little to meet even the most basic living costs. They experience multiple barriers to feeding, clothing, and housing themselves and their children.

Black and Latino Rhode Islanders make up a disproportionate share of those with low income. For those families seeking to overcome financial barriers, work support programs can help narrow the gap between earnings and expenses. Since Black and Latino Rhode Islanders are overrepresented as a share of Rhode Island’s low-wage workers, enhancing such programs and paying all workers a living wage would decrease disparities and increase economic security and opportunity.




Leave a Reply