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Struggling to get by

A new study released Thursday confirms what Philadelphians already knew. It's harder to stretch a paycheck to pay your bills in this city than it is in a lot of other towns.

Every two years, Pathways PA releases data from a Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania produced by the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington. The new study says it has gotten even more expensive to live in Philadelphia.

In 2008, a couple with two children needed $53,611 a year to pay for basics such as housing, food, transportation, health care, child care, and taxes. Today, they need $59,501. That's tough when you earn less than $50,000, which is the case with 62 percent of Philadelphia households.

The report is another reminder of how out of touch city officials are to keep raising the taxes and fees of a population in which most people are already spending beyond their means — not for extravagances, but just to get by.

Mayor Nutter talks about the pain the public will suffer from the spending cuts he is making because City Council didn't pass all of his revenue measures. But as this report shows, most Philadelphians are already feeling the pain, and any increase in taxes and fees only makes it worse.

Other costs to live in the city have also risen, including housing, 23 percent; health care, 22 percent; child care, and food, both 8 percent. The study says Philadelphia is now the fourth most expensive city to live in, behind New York, Boston and Chicago.

Similar self-sufficiency reports for 36 other states and the District of Columbia show how obsolete the official Federal Poverty Level has become. It was developed 40 years ago when a family spent a third of its household budget on food. It was reasoned then that tripling a food budget would yield how much a family needed to meet all of its basic needs.

That was never really the case, and it's even less so now. That's why many analysts multiply the FPL by as much as 200 percent or more when qualifying families as poor. That very term used to be something you applied mostly to the unemployed, but many Americans today have come to see themselves as members of the working poor. They earn a paycheck, but it's just not enough.

The new study broke down the monthly expenses of a Philadelphia family of two adults, a preschool child and a school age child as housing, $971; child care, $1,411; food, $870; public transportation, $168; health care, $386; miscellaneous, $381; taxes (income, payroll, sales), $1,106.

Clearly, there are areas where families can tighten their belts. Their elected officials should do the same, instead of adding to families' burden with higher taxes.