People who lined up for free income tax preparation in South Omaha on Tuesday probably knew how much money they made last year.
Representatives from Voices for Children in Nebraska were there to help them see what that sum means to a family's bottom line.
The nonprofit advocacy group showed off its Family Bottom Line Calculator, an online tool that computes what it takes for families of various sizes to live without government assistance or other help.
The calculator was unveiled in conjunction with this month's release of the group's new report: “The Family Bottom Line: Nebraska Families After the Great Recession,” said Aubrey Mancuso, policy coordinator for economic stability and health at Voices for Children.
The report and the calculator both show that the official federal poverty line does not accurately measure what it takes for families to meet their basic needs in a society in which costs are rising but incomes are not, she said.
“Nebraska families are working hard, but hard work isn't enough anymore,” Mancuso told about 25 people in a crowded waiting room at Family Housing Advisory Services near 36th and Q Streets.
To figure out your self-sufficiency on the calculator, you enter in where you live and how many adults and children are in your household. The calculator will tell you how much items such as housing, food and child care cost each month on average in your area, accounting for any tax credits you receive.
Tell it your income, and it tells you whether that's enough to cover those needs, and how much you're short or how much you have left over.
According to the group's calculations, for example, a family with a single adult, an infant and a preschooler in a metropolitan Nebraska county (over 20,000 population) must earn $45,875.40 each year to have enough to meet the average cost of living. The wage-earner must make $22.06 an hour. The federal poverty rate for a family of three is $19,090.
Personnel from Voices for Children compiled the data using information from the University of Washington Center for Women's Welfare, an organization that researches income inequality and self-sufficiency issues. It updates a 2009 report by the same name.
Mancuso said families can use the calculator as a planning tool, though she acknowledged that it doesn't offer anything beyond letting people know how much or little they have.
However, the group will share both the report and the calculator with policymakers, some of whom, she said, talk about income inequality issues in terms of effort rather than stagnant wages.
“We want to broaden the conversation beyond (the notion that) people just aren't working hard enough,” she said.
The report found that 73 percent of Nebraska children younger than 6 have all available parents in the workforce. It also found that the state's median income, updated for inflation, declined 28 percent between 2000 and 2012.
It recommends increasing the minimum wage, expanding tax credits for working families and addressing the “cliff effect” that occurs when people on public assistance are offered raises.