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Making ends meet in Denver when wages don't meet self-sufficiency standard

Making ends meet in Denver when wages don't meet self-sufficiency standard
Making ends meet in Denver when wages don't meet self-sufficiency standard 03:21

How much is enough to pay your bills and make ends meet in Colorado? For too many families their monthly earnings don't come close.

Taking a closer look at what is considered a living wage, CBS News Colorado met a Denver woman who's worked two and three jobs to keep food on her family's table.

Neat Stuff is located next to the Roxy Theatre in Denver's Five Points. CBS

LaShawn Marshall is accustomed to working long hours.  This day she's at her shop. Called "Neat Stuff" – it's next to the Roxy Theatre in Denver's Five Points.

"$43,000 is my annual income, even with three jobs," Marshall said. 

When not interacting with staff and customers and restocking inventory at her shop, Marshall has a full-time job at a nonprofit where she helps unhoused people get access to services.

Her mission has always been to protect her daughter Rae from the challenges of earning enough money.

"She doesn't need to know or worry about not eating. So I would try to just do what I could so that she didn't have to see that. If I was stressing, she didn't know," added Marshall.

At $43,000 a year income, Marshall is $6,000 below the mark which the Colorado Center on Law and Policy considers the "Self-Sufficiency Standard," a measure of economic security. In Denver, for a parent and one teenage child, that amount is $49,000.

LaShawn Marshall  CBS

Denver's Self-Sufficiency Standard is higher than for similar-sized cities around the country. It costs more to live here.

According to the US Census, there are approximately 25,975 families in Denver County that make less than $49,999/year (about 17%).

"I take my most important bills: rent, utilities, food, gas, phone, and then the other bills come after that," Marshall said.

Marshall credits Marsha Brown for much of what she's learned. Brown uses her own family's slide into poverty over a decade ago to help others access the resources to lift themselves up.

"There is no reason you human being need to be shamed, made to feel any kind of way other than beautiful, bold and brilliant," Brown recently said to a gathering of parents from Warren Village, a transitional housing community for single-parent families.

"I can tell you now, I am a homeowner. I went from Warren Village to public housing to owning my place," Brown said to the audience that celebrated with applause.

"A lot of folks learn about finances from the school of hard knocks," said David Sepulveda, the Denver Housing Authority Family Self-Sufficiency program administrator.

LaShawn Marshall participates in the program and is in her third year of paying into a fund that she hopes one day will produce the downpayment on a home.

LaShawn Marshall's daughter Rae.   LaShawn Marshall

Sepulveda described how it works, "Whatever their baseline rent is when they join the program, whenever it goes up due to earned income they start to accrue escrow so we take a portion of that increase and we put it into an interest bearing savings account and once they've made all the goals of the program, they then get that escrow money."

Marshall's daughter Rae is a student at Colorado State University. And mom has high hopes Rae will travel an easier road.

Rae's already learned one important lesson from her mom.

Marshall recalls what she tells her, "Don't stress yourself out. Cause we came into the world with a bill, we're going to leave with one."

Over the last 21 years, the Self-Sufficiency Standard for a four-person family in Denver has increased by 124%. Wages have not kept pace with cost increases, putting expanded pressure on family budgets.

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