Who is ALICE? Report looks at struggling families in state, Fairfield County

UnitedWayA report released this week by the United Way of Connecticut is shedding light on the large number of hard-working families in the state that are still struggling to make ends meet.

United Way released the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) Study of Financial Hardship, showing that 474,445 households in the state are unable to pay for the costs of basic household needs in Connecticut. The report was done by United Way’s research partner, Rutgers University.
ALICE is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in the state to date, according to Richard Porth, president and CEO of the United Way of Connecticut, using data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. census and the American Community Survey.

The report shows that while 10% of the state population is living under the federal poverty line, another 25% struggle to pay basic household needs, are unable to save for the future and would be unable to weather an emergency without falling into poverty. In Fairfield County, 20% of the population falls into the ALICE category and 11% are below the poverty line.

“ALICE is a population we all know,” Porth said in an interview on HAN Radio’s Coffee Break this week. “It could be our friends, neighbors, a family member — a sister who just got a divorce and has two young kids to support, a dad working 15 years, making a good living, but lost his job, through no fault of his own. It could be our parents who lost part of their retirement nest egg or even a young son who graduated from college with $30,000 in debt and can’t earn enough to pay that off live on his own.”

ALICE is men and women, young and old, of all races, corresponding fairly closely to the state’s overall demographic makeup, according to the study.
Even with one of the country’s highest median hourly wages, 51% of all jobs in Connecticut pay less than $20 per hour. That’s $40,000 a year if full-time. The average annual income needed by a family of four — two adults with one infant and one pre-kindergarten child — in order to survive in Connecticut is $64,889. This is more than double the official U.S. poverty level.

Those who fall into the ALICE category hold a number of different jobs in the state, including retail, food preparation, nursing and teaching assistants, and office staff.

In many of these cases, Porth said, the families are unable to hold down additional jobs, since they already have multiple ones.

“One of the benefits of the detail that Rutgers has gone into in this study is that we get a better idea of what, specifically, is impacting the ALICE household budget,” Porth said. “Housing and child care are major factors. We’ve made some good progress as a state in addressing affordable housing and child care. This demonstrates we need to continue to focus on those areas.”

The ALICE report recommends both short-term and long-term strategies to help ALICE families and strengthen communities. United Ways work with community partners to provide short-term support to ALICE families to help them get through a crisis and avoid a downward spiral into even worse circumstances such as homelessness. Porth urges residents who want to help to get involved in their local United Way by volunteering or contributing.

“The United Ways across the state, 16 in all, are on the front lines working with a lot of community partners that provide support to this population,” Porth said.

To learn more about the ALICE report, visit alice.ctunitedway.org.

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