Using Synthetic Population Analysis to Uncover Self-Sufficiency Across North Carolina

Struggling to make ends meet is unfortunately a common thread between adults in all counties within North Carolina. A recent partnership between RTI and NC State University Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) found that one in seven single adult households can’t meet basic needs. While these households are not identified as living below the poverty level, they are unable to cover the continually rising costs of necessities such as housing, utilities, food, and transportation.

In order to proactively identify these conditions and work towards sustainable resolutions, the IEI worked with RTI to use RTI International’s U.S. Synthetic Household Population™, a one-of-its-kind database that allows analysis of sociodemographic data for any location in the U.S., down to the household and individual level.

From Concept to Discovery

There are several factors that directly impact self-sufficiency. It commonly boils down to the number of individuals residing in a household that can either provide support or are dependents. For instance, metrics can be calculated based on the number of adults in the home and both the number and age range of children (adult, infant, preschool, teenager, etc).

By leveraging the RTI U.S. Synthetic Household Population™ and the UnitedWay of North Carolina’s 2017 Self-Sufficiency Standard, we first analyzed how much money single adult households in each county of NC were bringing in and compared it to an established “self-sufficient income” for that county.

Second, we evaluated level of education completed for these households and determined what percentage of those earning less than a self-sufficient wage had a high school degree or less.

The IEI used RTIs U.S. Synthetic Household Population because they could not find available information on household earnings by demographic, especially when they tried to consider an adult’s education level. Although the American Community Survey did offer this information, it is only a 5% sample. RTI removed the burden of accurately extrapolating this 5% sample to nationwide results by creating the synthetic population.

Results from the analysis showed that:

  • Across the state, the average percentage of single adult households with no college education below the self-sufficiency threshold was 45%
  • Mecklenburg county had the most households below self-sufficiency thresholds at ~10,000
  • Gates and Polk counties had the lowest percentage of households below self-sufficiency at 7.5%

Based on these findings, it can be concluded that where single adults live didn’t make them more or less likely to be able to meet their basic needs. This was not a rural or urban issue but was instead seen in all counties across the state, regardless of geography.

Putting Insights Into Action

Self-sufficiency does not stop at the single adult household level. It is also a growing concern when looking at households including children. By partnering with NC State on initiatives such as this, we hope that our shared knowledge on the issue will drive real change.

By bringing out our big gun - aka the RTI U.S. Synthetic Household Population - we had the ability to drill down to the individual level and uncover issues facing North Carolina residents, enabling us to better identify and address the highest priority needs of the population.

This is a critical step in discovering and implementing interventions for moving forward towards 100% self-sufficiency across North Carolina.

For more information on our work with IEI, visit or visit our Center for Data Science to learn more about RTI's capabilities. 

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