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United Way report finds 43 percent of St. Louis-area households can’t meet basic living expenses

Julie Russell, Dayna Stock and Mark Tranel joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss a new report from the United Way and UMSL.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Julie Russell, Dayna Stock and Mark Tranel joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss a new report examining financial stress on households in St. Louis from the United Way and UMSL.

A recent report by the United Way and the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis found that 43 percent of all St. Louis metropolitan area households (encompassing 16 counties) do not have the monthly income to meet their basic living expenses. Basic living expenses include housing, food, transportation, taxes, health care and child care. This is a differentiation apart from “poverty level.”

“There’s a difference between having an adequate amount to live and to have enough to save and be prepared for surprises that come up and can quickly change your life,” said Dayna Stock, the vice president of regions and special initiatives with the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

In the St. Louis region in Missouri 59 percent of households are below the basic needs threshold. In Illinois, the percentage is a little lower at 48 percent.

“That’s nearly half a million households [489,817] in our region who are struggling to get by,” said Julie Russell, vice president of planning and evaluation at the United Way. “That number is astonishing. It is your neighbor, your family, your friends.”

You can read the full report here.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the report, titled “Basic Living Measure Report | St. Louis Metropolitan Area 2016,” with Stock and Julie Russell as well as Mark Tranel, director of UMSL’s Public Police Research Center.

The report looked at the five most prevalent types of households in the St. Louis area: two adults with two children, one adult with two children, two adults (19-64), two seniors, and a single-person household. Tranel said that the income needed to meet basic living expenses in each of those groups varies widely. For a household with two adults and two children, the income needed to meet basic expenses is $70,000. For seniors or a single-person household, the number is $29,000.

Childcare and healthcare are what drive that income need up for households with children. For all households, however, housing, transportation and childcare are what drive the income level need up.

One of the short-term solutions for this issue that the United Way has put forth is their 2-1-1 helpline. It is a free and confidential line for people to reach out about services they need to help with financial struggles. Also in app form, website and live chat, the service seeks to connect people with helpful services without adding the extra work burden of research on someone who is already financially stressed.

“We take over 150,000 calls per year on 2-1-1,” Stock said. “We offer mortgage assistance, utility assistance, referrals to other agencies.”

Tranel said he hoped this report will help people understand what a measure of adequate income to live a reasonable life has become, not just what the federal designation of poverty level is.

“The report just reinforced an understanding that households with these types of challenges are present in every community in the metropolitan area, whether city, county; there’s no area that doesn’t have households with this kind of need,” Tranel said.  

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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