ALICE

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Who is Alice?

ALICEs are many of the people you interact with on a daily basis without even knowing it.

ALICE  is a United Way acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—those who work hard and earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford a basic household budget of housing, child care, food, transportation and health care. ALICE represents women and men; young and old; urban, suburban, and rural; and all races and ethnicities who get up each day to go to work, but aren’t sure if they’ll be able to put dinner on the table each night.

Sadly, the number of Snohomish County households who are ALICE—living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to afford life’s basic necessities—far exceeds official federal poverty statistics.

Who is struggling?

While Federal Poverty Level reports show that only 14 percent of Pacific Northwest households face financial hardship, the ALICE threshold provides a clearer and more updated estimate. In Washington, 13 percent (343,878 households) lived in poverty, and 19 percent (510,342 households) were ALICE in Snohomish County.

Why are ALICEs struggling?

Low wage jobs dominate the local economyMore than half of all jobs in the Pacific Northwest pay less than $20 per hour (with most paying between $10 and $15 per hour ($15 per hour full time = $30,000/year). These jobs—especially service jobs that pay below $20 per hour and require only a high school education or less—will grow far faster than higher-wage jobs over the next decade.

High Cost of Living

The cost of basic household expenses in the Pacific Northwest is more than what most of the region’s jobs can support. The average annual household survival budget for a Pacific Northwest family of four (two adults with one infant and one preschooler) is double the U.S. family poverty rate of $23,850. Despite working, ALICE- and poverty-level households often need assistance to meet their most basic needs. Frequently, many of these households are still unable to make ends meet on a monthly basis. This gap in income forces families to make tough decisions like whether to pay an electric bill or fill a prescription, buy food or fill their gas tank.

What are the consequences, and what would improve the economic situation for ALICE households?

Consequence

When ALICE households cannot make ends meet, they are forced to make difficult choices such as forgoing health care, accredited child care, healthy food or car insurance. These “savings” threaten their health, safety, and future—and they reduce productivity and raise insurance premiums and taxes for everyone. The costs are high for both ALICE families and the wider community.

Effective change

While short-term strategies can make conditions less severe, only structural economic changes will significantly improve prospects for ALICE and enable hardworking households to support themselves. Strengthening the Pacific Northwest economy and meeting ALICE’s challenges are linked: improvement for one would directly benefit the other. The ALICE tools can help policy makers, community leaders and business leaders to better understand the magnitude and variety of households facing financial hardship, and to create more effective change.

What can we learn from the ALICE study?

There is significantly greater need than the typical portrait painted of state, with its high median income and low poverty rates. Additionally, ALICE is a vital part of our community. We are all interconnected and our success depends on ALICE’s ability to reach his or her potential. ALICE is not going away, he/she is here to stay. There is a systemic problem that will not be solved with one magic bullet – policymakers, academics, business and social service agencies need to work together to address long-term systemic change.

What is United Way of Snohomish County doing for ALICE?

United Ways across the country are joining forces to bring this issue out of the shadows and ignite a grassroots movement to give ALICE a chance to become financially stable. We are raising awareness that ALICE exists in Snohomish County, and that we need to address ALICE for the economic well-being of all residents. We are also shedding light on the underlying causes keeping ALICE from succeeding.

United Way of Snohomish County currently works to provide some short- and medium-term solutions for ALICE, such as free tax preparation and financial and career mentoring through our individual development account program.

How is the ALICE research conducted?

The report uses publicly available data from available sources including the U.S. Census, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lead researcher is United Way ALICE Project National Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., who works from the project’s home base at United Way of Northern New Jersey and is on the faculty at Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration. Each state has an ALICE Research Advisory Committee that is part of the research team and is comprised of top experts from that state representing academia, government, business and nonprofits.