What does self-sufficiency mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-sufficiency is defined as “able to maintain oneself without outside aid.”  By this strict definition, nearly everyone – in poverty, in middle-class and in upper-class – is not self-sufficient. We all benefit from such things as car loans, mortgages, credit cards, tax credits and child care assistance. Without some of these things we would not be able to purchase cars or homes – imagine paying for a $400,000 house in cash with no mortgage!

On the extreme end, some would define self-sufficiency as doing everything yourself. You make your own tools, grow your own food, make your own electricity – everything that you would buy in a store or services you would pay for would go against being fully self-sufficient.

According to The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2015, published by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the self-sufficiency standard is the measure which “describes how much income families of various sizes and compositions need to make ends meet without public or private assistance.” The report reveals that for most workers throughout Colorado, whose wages are above the official Federal Poverty Level, are still not making enough to meet their family’s needs.  In 2015, a family of four (two adults, two children) would need to make an hourly wage of $15.47 per adult for an annual income of $65,350 to be economically self-sufficient in El Paso County.

Considering that many of those who seek assistance at Tri-Lakes Cares are working for a minimum wage of $8.31 per hour (Colorado is higher than the federal minimum wage), you can see how it is difficult to make ends meet. And, financial difficulties can multiply if work hours are reduced, a position is eliminated or unexpected medical costs are incurred.

Yet, some of those clients view themselves as self-sufficient. Consider the man who comes in on a weekly basis to visit Help Yourself – where he can pick-up bread, fresh produce, dairy products and other perishable items which are donated by area businesses to supplement what he can purchase on his fixed income. This may be the only assistance that he seeks. Or, consider the senior citizen who received help to repair the gutter work on her trailer where she continues to live independently and asking for no further help. Yet, these individuals may be receiving food stamp benefits, disability payments, and income tax credits meaning that by the official definition they are not self-sufficient.

Tri-Lakes Cares works with all of our clients to help them move out of poverty and towards greater self-sufficiency as defined by the individual and their unique situation. We offer them opportunities which might improve their chances of getting out of the cycle of poverty. One such possibility is our “Getting Ahead” class. This 12-week course, which is part of the aha! Process, Inc. family of resources and developed by the creators of Bridges out of Poverty, helps individuals understand their own situation and encourages them to review their resources and capabilities on how to move out of poverty and towards increased self-sufficiency. Other possibilities offered include budget counseling and assistance with post-secondary education costs (everything from helping to pay for books to providing tuition assistance for work-related licensures).

Self-sufficiency means different things to different people depending on their financial circumstances, their philosophy on life and their personal perceptions. We cannot impose our own definition for self-sufficiency on others. We can only understand it when we hear the other’s story – walking a mile in their shoes – and only then can we move together towards an understanding of self-sufficiency for each individual.



You can read and study the full self-sufficiency standard report here:


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