Cost of Living is Up, but the Living Wage in Tompkins County Stagnates. Why? Federal Healthcare Subsidies.



TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY -- The Living Wage in Tompkins County went down by 5 cents, from $15.37 to $15.32. The reason being: new Federal subsidies for health insurance. Although, those subsidies are temporary.

Tompkins County’s Living Wage is calculated every two years by Alternatives Federal Credit Union. Alternatives calculates a Living Wage for their own employees as well as a community wage, which is the one in consideration here.

The results of that study are used by business, organizations, and workers as a reference for what someone needs to live on in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Workers Center -- an advocacy group that pushes for higher wages and worker’s rights in the county --  uses the community Living Wage as a benchmark for its advocacy. They’ve been closely involved in Alternative’s Living Wage studies for the last 18 years.

Kevin Mietlicki is the CFO at Alternatives. He oversaw the 2021 Living Wage study. He described the wage Alternatives determines as the minimum that a single person working full time needs to live on in Tompkins County. 

The study considers costs like internet and cell phone bills, transportation, even the annual cost a person pays for footwear. The largest cost the study looks at is rent for one bedroom, and the second largest is healthcare.

2021-Living-Wage-Study Table


All of these expenses change over time, but the COVID economy is consistently proving itself volatile, and the Living Wage study is not predictive. That wage of $15.32 an hour represents what someone needs to earn to get by right now in Tompkins County.

Kevin Mietlicki called the study, “A snapshot in time.” The turbulent conditions brought on by the pCost of Living is Up, but the Living Wage in Tompkins County Stagnates. Why? Federal Healthcare Subsidies.andemic have met with the federal subsidies and programs to cover costs. 

The American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) healthcare subsidies are what’s at the heart of the Living Wage staying mostly the same in Tompkins County while almost every other cost goes up.

The Living Wage Study Found that the cost of healthcare did actually increase by about 19% between 2018 and 2020 in Tompkins County. But ARPA made more people eligible for health insurance assistance by expanding the premium tax credits available through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57 percent of uninsured people in the U.S. were eligible for financial assistance with their healthcare before ARPA passed. Now that’s ticked up to 63 percent. 

Kaiser estimates that the average savings eligible Americans will see as a result of these subsidies will be around $70 a month. Though, depending on household income, some will see a savings of close to $33, or even up to $213 a month. And, according to Kaiser, virtually everyone who was eligible for subsidies under the ACA will benefit from lower premiums brought on by ARPA.

To get a better sense of the effect that ARPA had on the price of healthcare premiums, check out these tables from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s paper, “Impact of Key Provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 COVID-19 Relief on Marketplace Premiums.”



Monthly Premium’s under the Affordable Care Act



Monthly Premiums with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act

07092021_KAISER TABLE 3
07092021_KAISER TABLE 3

Pete Meyers is the Coordinator at the Tompkins County Workers Center. He thinks these subsidies are great for workers, but they only matter if people have health insurance and take advantage of them. That’s the other story being told in Kaiser’s analysis of the increase in uninsured Americans who are eligible for healthcare subsidies.

Those subsidies are also expiring in 2022, a year before the next living wage study happens in Tompkins County. Those subsidies are what make up the difference for the rising costs of living in Tompkins County. The only decreased cost found in Alternatives’ Living Wage Study was a marginal drop in childcare.

If the subsidies passed in ARPA aren’t continued, what it will cost to subsist in Tompkins county will likely see a sharp change come 2022.