As the cost of living continues to rise in Maricopa County, some working families are having trouble affording food and are turning to places like food banks for help.
Anabel says her husband recently went back to work full-time after his hours were cut significantly during the pandemic. She says he makes slightly above the state's minimum wage, but as they catch up on bills, it's not enough to keep food on the table. The couple and their three young kids live in a one-bedroom apartment and go to Nourish Phoenix, a food and clothing bank, twice a month.
“Because they cover my food needs," she said. "So, I can buy other things. I can spend on my kids."
Executive Director of Nourish Phoenix Beth Fiorenza says Anabel's story isn't unique.
"We see a lot of families who are working," she said.
“That doesn’t mean that you're spending your money on extravagant things, it just doesn’t go far enough," said Dr. Tamara Zivic, Executive Director of the World Hunger Education, Advocacy & Training Organization.
Dr. Zivic says wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. She references 2019 data by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which finds in Maricopa County, a single adult with two kids would need to make $35 an hour to have what's considered a living wage. That accounts for things like food and childcare. The data shows $33 an hour is considered a living wage if there are two adults and one stays home to take care of the kids, and $19 an hour for two working adults.
"Another issue is the rising cost of rent, utilities as well," said Dr. Zivic.
Data shows the cost of food is also up 3.5% in just the last year. Dr. Zivic says she understands the issue of raising the minimum wage is a difficult balance.
“You also don’t want your small businesses to not be able to make it... they go out of business, they can’t pay the people," Dr. Zivic said. "But on the other hand, again, if you are actually out there working, we don’t want somebody to be working three or four jobs to make that $35 an hour, then your childcare costs go up."
She says more training for higher-paying jobs is part of the solution.
“Give them the skills to be able to have the dignity of work and finding other things to do to make money," Zivic said.
She also believes that once families start earning more money, they shouldn't be cut off from receiving food assistance benefits right away.
"That they're given a buffer or some time to be able to actually put money away and start living that," she said. "Because sometimes what happens is you start making that wage, you have to renew and you fall off because you're making too much money and you fall into the cycle, why am I working, I can feed my kids better without this better job."
As for Anabel, she also just got a job and says the hope is that one day her family can give back to the place that helped them during their toughest times.
“They know how in need we are in this time more than ever," she said. "I will be here always for them as they always were for me and my family."