To have economic security, working adults must have enough income to meet their basic monthly expenses—such as housing, food, transportation, and child care expenses—and save for emergencies and retirement. The Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) Index provides a measure of how much income working adults of different family types need to meet their basic monthly expenses—such as housing, food, transportation, and child care expenses—and save for emergencies and retirement.
These fact sheets present new state-level BEST data calculated by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. BEST data for each county in the United States and for many more family types than shown here are available at http://www.basiceconomicsecurity.org/.
Economic security is a critical part of the overall health and well-being of women, men, and children. To experience economic security, working adults must have enough income to meet their basic monthly expenses—such as housing, food, transportation, and child care expenses—and save for emergencies and retirement. The Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) Index provides a measure of how much income working adults of different family types need to be economically secure in each state.
This fact sheet presents new national and state-level BEST data calculated by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. BEST data for many more family types than shown here are available at http://www.basiceconomicsecurity.org/.
Economic Security Snapshot: United States
• Only 67 percent of working adults (aged 19–64) in the United States are economically secure, meaning their family household income is enough to meet monthly basic expenses and reach modest asset development goals (Table 1).
• Working men are more likely to be economically secure than working women (68.2 percent of men are economically secure, compared with 65.5 percent of women).
• White men are the most likely to live with economic security in the United States, and Hispanic men and women are least likely to live with economic security.
• Just under one in four households headed by single mothers in the United States are economically secure and live with family incomes above the BEST Index for their family type. Families headed by single mothers are the least likely to be economically secure, while married couples without children are the most likely to be economically secure.
Amount of annual income working adults with employment benefits need for basic economic security in the United States…
Table 1 shows how much income working adults—both with and without employment-based benefits—in the United States need for basic economic security.
• A single working adult needs $2,751 per month, or $33,012 per year, to be economically secure.
• A single working parent with one infant needs $4,243 per month, or $50,916 per year, for their family to be economically secure.
• A family with two working parents, one infant, and one preschooler needs a monthly income of $3,301 per worker (or, $6,602 per couple), or nearly $80,000 per year, to experience basic economic security.
The BEST Index shows that living above the federal poverty threshold is not necessarily enough for basic economic security. In 2017, the federal poverty line for a single adult under age 65 was $12,752 and $16,895 for a household with one adult and one child under age 18.
Working adults without employment-based benefits need more income to have basic economic security. Without benefits, workers need to pay for health insurance and save for retirement on their own (Table 1).
The Basic Economic Security Tables: National Methodology and Supplemental Data contains:
- Detailed explication of the Basic Economic Security TablesTM Index (BEST) methodology
- Supplementary data and figures for BEST expense and savings components
- Supplementary BEST values calculated under alternative assumptions
- A BEST data sources table
Developed by Wider Opportunities for Women and the Center for Social Development at Washington University St. Louis, the Basic Economic Security Table (BEST) Index is maintained by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The BEST measures the incomes a wide variety of working families require to meet daily needs, specific to family type and location, and to save for emergencies and retirement.
The BEST follows a long history of research defining families’ spending and income needs, but reflects a modern economy and contemporary understanding of how families achieve financial stability. The national BEST Index provides a broad view of the state of the nation’s workers – the expenses they face, their resources, and their prospects for achieving the financial stability so critical to the nation’s future. The BEST data increase awareness of the challenges faced by the typical American worker, and suggest leverage points and policies that can help them overcome obstacles to economic security. The BEST Index users include:
Workers and Their Families – The BEST Index shows how much income workers need to cover basic monthly expenses and develop assets for long-term economic security. Because the BEST varies by location, family size, and the age of children, the BEST Index can be used to determine the price of economic security for a wide variety of families across the country.
Legislators, Administrators, and Advocates – The BEST Index demonstrates the true cost of economic security and helps determine what policies are most effective in helping working families bridge the gap between wages and security. The data can be used to define good jobs, evaluate economic development, and evaluate and design programs and public policies to help families attain long-term economic security.
Workers and Future Workers Planning for the Future – The BEST Index can help young adults and workers understand financial needs, plan education and training, and identify career paths that lead to economic security.
Economic Development and Financial Service Professionals – The BEST Index provides aspirational goals for families and communities and a benchmark for evaluating economic development projects. These tables can serve as part of a blueprint for job creation that provide pathways to economic security wages.
The BEST database allows users to:
- Find an index for a location and family type
- Compare their own families’ expenses to the local BEST Index
- Compare indices or single expense across locations and family types
- Download national, state, and county index data
- Access additional information on economic security and the work supported by the BEST and Elder Index
The BEST Index presents the specific needs of more than 400 family types – all possible one- or two-adult families with up to six children.2 BEST values for adults are not age-specific, and are applicable to any independent working adult.3 The data for itemized expenses are from federal agencies and other sources that are publicly accessible and are updated regularly. Due to variation in how state agencies measure and define data, whenever available, sources are selected that collect data for all states and counties. Details regarding the data sources and assumptions for each expense are outlined in the corresponding section of this methodology.
To further improve understanding of worker expenses and income needs, the BEST calculates separate income requirements for workers with and without access to employment-based benefits. Receipt or nonreceipt of benefits – employer-sponsored health insurance, employment-based retirement plans, and unemployment insurance coverage – can be critical to short- and long-term economic security. Such benefits can prevent workers from suffering marked declines in stability, or even impoverishment.
To explore the BEST for the United States, a state, or county, visit IWPR’s Economic Security Database.