What Powers CIS Reality Check?

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How much will the lifestyle you desire cost you every month?  How big a bite will routine bills take out of your paycheck?  Which occupations provide the kind of salary that will let you buy what you want?  Reality Check, an Idaho Career Information System tool, can help you, your students or your children understand the relationship between earnings, purchases and paying the bills.

Reality Check is helpful for students trying to understand the connection between income and expenses. A 12-item survey includes options for large monthly expenses like housing, utilities, transportation and health care. It also includes budget choices for entertainment, personal care, savings, student loan repayment and a “miscellaneous” category.  The budget figures in Reality Check are updated throughout the year and accurately indicate the current cost of living in Idaho’s six metropolitan areas: Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Pocatello and Twin Falls.

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As one of the site’s more popular features, Reality Check helps people determine how much they will need to earn and what lifestyle changes may need to be made to accommodate the wages paid by the selected occupation.  Reality Check also is used as a budget builder. As people navigate through the various phases, they can revisit earlier choices to cut back on some desires to provide money for others. After setting a monthly budget, Reality Check provides the user with a list of occupations that will help her earn the income necessary for supporting her lifestyle.

How are the correct, up-to-date budget amounts determined?  Reality Check data comes from many government agencies, non-profit organizations and business sources. Data is often sourced from federal agencies. For example, the U. S. Census’ American Fact Finder website provides median housing cost for each Idaho metro area. Census housing data also include utility costs, which is separated from the housing expenses before posting into Reality Check. The U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development provides median rent estimates by county and metro area for 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments.

Some Reality Check data comes from non-profit and industry sources. Private organizations provide costs for consumer goods, personal care and transportation. Reality Check transportation costs are sourced from a private publisher, edmunds.com and include vehicle costs as well as fuel costs, maintenance and depreciation.

Other expenses, such as clothing and personal care, are determined using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of consumer expenditures as well as private industry price checking to determine a typical range for these expenses.

Health care costs are gathered from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and are localized using a cost of living index. However, the cost of health insurance purchased from an employer is sourced from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national, nonprofit organization that focuses on health care issues. The Idaho health insurance exchange is used to determine individually purchased health insurance expenses – insurance cost were determined for a non-smoking, 26-year-old with an annual income of $35,000 because federal health care subsidies are not available at this income level.

The Council for Community and Economic Research helps us localize dollar amounts for the different areas of Idaho.

Reality Check was recently updated for 2016 to provide the most accurate and timely information possible. Significant changes included:

  • Increased food costs, now aligned to U.S. Department of Agriculture food expenditures;
  • Decreased costs for supporting children based on localized data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Changes in utility costs based on Idaho provider prices and cost of living differences within the state;
  • Average student loan payments by type of school and level of degree; and
  • Changes to state and federal tax rates.

Give Reality Check a try now.

— Eric White, information analyst,
Idaho Career Information System
Eric.White@labor.idaho.gov