ALICE in the Crosscurrents

Who is ALICE?

We all know people who are ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — earning more than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford the basics where they live.

ALICE households and households in poverty are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent — choices that have long-term consequences not only for their families, but for all.

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.

United For ALICE recently released it's latest report, “ALICE in the Crosscurrents: An Update on Financial Hardship in Washington.” The data finds that while 312,012 households were in poverty in 2022, another 747,889 were ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the poverty level but less than the cost of basics. Learn more about ALICE in Washington State and Snohomish County. 


Who is Struggling? 

Of Washington's 3,064,367 households in 2022…

  • 10% earned below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)
  • 24% were ALICE, in households that earned above the FPL but not enough to afford the basics in the communities where they live
  • Together, 35% of households in Washington were below the ALICE Threshold (poverty + ALICE divided by total households)

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought employment shifts, health struggles, and school/business closures, it also spurred temporary expansion of public assistance through pandemic relief measures (which then reverted to pre-pandemic levels in 2022). In 2019, 948,380 households in Washington were below the ALICE Threshold; by 2022, that number had changed to 1,059,901. 


Common Jobs in Washington have high percentage of ALICE Workers

A key contributor to the number of ALICE households in Washington is the fundamental mismatch between the cost of living and what jobs pay.

Full-time salaried work brings greater financial stability, yet a large (and growing) number of workers are paid hourly. Workers who are paid by the hour are more likely to have fluctuations in income due to frequent schedule changes and variable hours, and they are less likely to receive benefits, such as health insurance, paid time off, family leave, or retirement benefits.

In addition, a historically high number of workers are out of the labor force. This has helped keep wages low: When more workers are available, employers have less incentive to raise wages to attract employees. Many workers are out of the labor force due to retirement; other reasons include school, health issues/disability, and family caregiving responsibilities.

The Cost of Basics Outweighs Wages

While many of these low-income workers saw their wages grow at the fastest rate in four decades, it wasn’t enough to eclipse the burden of inflation – making it nearly impossible for ALICE to keep pace. For a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the costs of basics in Washington, excluding tax credits, rose from $92,535 in 2021 to $95,244 one year later. Compounding the issue in 2022 was the loss of up to $15,000 in federal child tax credits and stimulus payments that this family had access to in 2021.

These findings add to a more than decade-long trend: Since the end of the Great Recession, despite some ups and downs, the number of ALICE households in Washington has been steadily growing. From 2010 to 2022, the total number of households rose by 18%, households in poverty increased by 1% — and the number of ALICE households grew by a substantial 44%. 


The Consequences

There are six essential areas of a household budget — housing, child care and education, food, transportation, health care, and technology — as well as taxes that affect financial decision-making for ALICE families. The larger the gap between income and expenses, the more extreme the decisions, and the greater the risks to a family’s immediate health, safety, and financial stability.

The Consequences of Insufficient Household Income report highlights how choices in one area invariably affect choices in other areas. The problems are complicated and interwoven. With this clear documentation of the issues and how they are interconnected, community stakeholders can start to build solutions for their neighborhoods, towns and cities, counties, and states. For solutions to be effective, they must be comprehensive and interconnected to address as many areas of struggle as possible.


What is United Way doing about it?

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. We are committed even more than ever to ensure the work we do meets the needs of those who are most vulnerable in our community -- including ALICE families. 


How is ALICE Research Conducted?

Each state convenes a Research Advisory Committee (RAC) made up of local researchers and experts to ensure the data accurately reflects local conditions, context, and nuances.

These committees advise and work closely with our ALICE Research Team through in-person and virtual meetings. Members of each state’s RAC represent a range of organizations, including academic institutions, social and human service organizations, hospitals, government agencies, or market researchers. These individuals are typically experts in public policy, education, health care, housing, food security, labor, or tax laws. Use the drop-down menu below to see RAC members by state. For more information about our RACs, click here.