Montana among 23 states with reduced poverty rates between 2014 and 2015, but there’s more work to be done.

On Tuesday we released a blog highlighting the Census Bureau’s new data on health insurance coverage in Montana. Today, we’ll look at new state-level poverty data to determine how families in Montana are fairing, and identify policies that help struggling families get a leg up.

Between 2014 and 2015, poverty rates declined in 23 states, including Montana. During this period, over 320 families in Montana rose out of poverty and the median household income increased nearly 7 percent, from $46,328 in 2014 to $49,509 in 2015.

Although small improvements, the number of people struggling economically remains too high and is holding back our economy and hampering our kids’ futures. One in six families with children (over 17,300 families) in Montana struggled to afford basic necessities in 2015, with a family of four too often living on less than $24,000 a year. Further, nearly one in five children (over 41,400 children) in Montana are growing up in families that can’t afford the basics necessities for a good start to life because their parents earn so little.

Several policy areas could help families in Montana continue to work and earn enough to support their families and balance the demands of being a parent, including:

Supplementing low-wages through a state Earned Income Tax Credit – In 2013, 85,000 families in Montana were better able to get caught up on their bills, put food on the table, and get to and from work because of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC helps supplement low-wages for low-to moderate-income families, keeping parents in the workforce, and supporting local communities. Montana could create a state EITC, modeled on the federal credit, which would further support families working hard, but struggling to make ends meet because of low-wages.

Helping families balance work and home demands through a paid family and medical leave insurance program – Nearly every worker, at some point, faces a situation that pulls them from work temporarily. When workers have a baby, need to care for aging parents, or need to recover from a serious illness, they should be able to do so without worrying about earning enough during leave to support their families. A paid family and medical leave insurance program would provide Montana workers a portion of their wages during leave so that they can balance family and personal demands, continue to earn an income, and ready return to work with the peace-of-mind knowing they or their loved ones are happy and healthy.

Providing affordable and quality child care to working parents – Affordable and high-quality child care helps parents maintain stable employment and provides children with the skills to do well in school and beyond. Unfortunately, affordable child care is out of reach for many low-and moderate-income families in Montana. With the cost of care for a four-year old approaching $8,000 a year, low-income families, especially single-parent households, can spend almost half of their income on child care alone. Some low-income families can receive assistance to cover the costs of child care through Montana’s Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship program. However, application processes and eligibility requirements keep many parents from applying or qualifying for assistance. Further, stagnant funding reduces the state’s ability to adequately reimburse child care providers, which can push additional costs onto low-income families. Increasing investments into Montana’s Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship program and the state’s overall early childhood development system will improve access to quality and affordable education and child care options.

Our state will be a better place to live when all parents have the opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their kids. A state EITC, paid family and medical leave insurance program, and affordable and quality child care are several are areas to invest in that will make this a reality.

 

 

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