Report: Many R.I. residents struggling to make ends meet

PROVIDENCE – Many Rhode Island residents, especially Black and Latino households, still struggle to make ends meet, according to the biannual Rhode Island Standard of Need report released by The Economic Progress Institute Thursday.

In a no-frills budget that includes the cost of housing, food, transportation, health care and child care, among other basic necessities, 61% of all Rhode Island single adults earn less than the required $34,914 to get by, according to the report, released for the first time since 2020.

When broken down by race, the disparities are even more stark. Of Latino single-adult households, 75% earn less than the required income to afford the essentials, compared to 72% of Black single-adult households, 60% Asian single-adult households and 59% white single-adult households.

The report also found that 91% of Latinx single-parent family households earn less than the required $78,219 annual income to afford the no-frills budget, compared to 59% of white single-parent family households in Rhode Island.

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The report said the federal poverty level, which was created in the 1960s, is an inadequate measure of economic security. Since it is calculated by making inflation adjustments to an outdated expense methodology based solely on food costs, it no longer reflects the reality of most families’ lives and is not an accurate measure of what it costs to make ends meet for families in the 21st century, according to the report. To meet their basic needs, the report found single adults in the state need income almost twice the federal poverty level.

Data shows one in nine Rhode Islanders, 11.6%, live in poverty with the poverty rate for Black residents, 20.5%, more than twice as high as the rate for white residents, 9.4%. The rate for Latino residents living in poverty is the highest at 23.1%.

The report recommends increasing Rhode Island’s minimum wage to $16.79 per hour and phasing out the tipped minimum wage. The current $12.25 per hour annual earnings of 25,480 are $9,400 less needed for a single adult to make ends meet.

The report also found the 7,687 Rhode Island residents receiving cash assistance through R.I. Works or the 21,216 residents collecting Supplemental Security Income have significant gaps between income and basic living expenses.

Data shows a parent receiving $721 a month from R.I. Works, along with $740 per month in SNAP benefits and $64 in WIC assistance fell $1,563 short off covering basic needs. An individual receiving Supplemental Security Income of 881 per month, plus $262 a month in SNAP benefits fell $956 short of covering basic needs.

Without subsidies from the Child Care Assistance Program and subsidies through HealthSource Rhode Island, working families — including frontline and essential workers — had a large gap between income and expenses for basic needs, according to the report.

The report recommends expanding government-funded work support programs that help narrow the gap between income expenses for low-wage families to decrease racial and ethnic disparities.