What does it mean to become self-sufficient?

When we think about those in need who ask for help, it’s essential to look at pointing them toward a target, an end goal that is better than the current situation. We need to manage the delicate balance of meeting an immediate need (for example, providing a meal) while preparing for the next step. It’s much easier to teach someone to fish on a full stomach. But what is that next step? And what is the ultimate goal? That is the basis for the opening question in this short article. The theory is simply this: we need to have a target in mind when we are helping people that want to be helped.

The focus quickly becomes that of defining the target, along with some underlying assumptions. To begin with, when we talk about helping others, let’s agree that these are people who have asked for help. In other words, we’re not out to inflict our process on anyone. Like the fish-teaching cliché above, there is an art to helping others that begins with developing a relationship and building trust.

We begin from a place of mutual respect for all people. No one is better than the other. All of us have made poor choices in the past and have had to live with the consequences of our actions. The degree to which we recover from these deviations speaks volumes about our character. And we all have room to improve, agree?

Back to the topic at hand, in many ways the decisions we make in response to missteps play a significant role in our ability to be self-sufficient, that is, not to be entirely dependent on assistance from the government or charitable organization. Enter the Self-Sufficiency Standard.

Self-Sufficiency Standard

To help us all come to a consensus on what it means to be self-sufficient, we have attached two relevant documents here: definition

  1. The Self-Sufficiency Standard for South Carolina 2016  defines the minimum income needed to realistically support a family, without public or private assistance, and presents strategies to close the wage gap and even move beyond self-sufficiency.
  2. On The Road: Exploring Economic Security Pathways in South Carolina considers three key pathways that many families can take to move closer to long-term economic security
    1. postsecondary education,
    2. improved housing or homeownership, and
    3. savings for retirement.

We hope you’ll invest the time to read through these documents, at least hit the highlights. What you will find are numbers that probably support your instincts by providing factual data in an easy to understand format. Intuitively, you know that minimum wage is not even close to enough income to support a family, especially one with pre-school children.


After scanning through the self-sufficiency standard, you’ll be able to articulate why the minimum wage is far from adequate. Just listing the categories of housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care is enough to make my head spin. In many ways, it’s easy to see why those living from paycheck to paycheck have a hard time discussing their budget, but this is essential for helping people move toward self-sufficiency.

One of the measures we’ve all heard about is provided by the federal government: the Federal Poverty Level. Here’s a link to the Department of Health & Human Services website that shows the 2019 Poverty Guidelines: Link.

A quick scan of page 29 in the Self-Sufficiency Guide compared to the Poverty Guidelines provides this stark reality.

Source Minimum Annual Wage
Self-Sufficiency Guide for Anderson County, one adult, one school-aged child, one preschooler $36,516
Federal Poverty Level for three persons in a household $21,330

The Poverty Line

We’re not trying to make a case for or against the Federal Poverty Level, though the consensus among helping agencies is the method is completely outdated (save that discussion for another post). The main point is to understand it is a guideline that we need to appreciate for eligibility for certain subsidies and benefits.

Throughout South Carolina, the Self-Sufficiency Standard shows incomes well above the official Federal Poverty Level are nevertheless far below what is necessary to meet families’ basic needs. (Self-Sufficiency Guide, p.7)

Here are a few more resources if you’re interested in reading more on the topic:

If you have about 45 minutes, this video provides a variety of cases on poverty in America. The main takeaway we hope you get is not about feeling sorry for someone; instead, it’s about learning to look beyond someone’s present circumstance with an eternal perspective. Every person matters.

What does this have to do with the Community Resource Guide?

When we started looking around our community, we wanted to create something that would help not only those in need but assist service providers at the same time. While one organization might specialize in a particular area, it’s important to know that there are others in the community filling a need in something completely different, yet potentially vital to the person sitting in front of them.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard sticks out as one resource that most don’t know about, even though it’s been calculated for 41 states.

We hope you’ll find the information helpful as you talk with those in need. Whether you’re making dinner for someone, donating clothing, building a ramp, or any number of wonderful service opportunities, learning more about the struggles of our neighbors helps to appreciate the difficulties they live with each day.

Thanks again to the many who do much for the few. One life at a time. Keep up the great work!