The Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW) has released a study on the condition of Michigan’s working families, what it has named ALICE households – those that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE households have an income that is higher than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford basic household necessities.
This Report focuses on what has changed in Michigan since the first United Way ALICE Report was published three years ago. It updates the cost of basic needs in the Household Survival Budget for each county in Michigan, and the number of households earning below this amount – the ALICE Threshold. It delves deeper into county and municipal data as well as ALICE and poverty-level households by race, ethnicity, age, and household type to reveal variations in hardship that are often masked by state averages. Finally this Report highlights emerging trends that will be important to ALICE in the future.
The data reveals an ongoing struggle for ALICE households and the obstacles to achieving financial stability:
- Struggling Households: Of Michigan’s 3.86 million households, 15 percent lived in poverty in 2015 and another 25 percent were ALICE. Combined, 40 percent (1.53 million households) had income below the ALICE Threshold, an improvement since 2010, but still above the level in 2007.
- Basic Cost of Living: The cost of basic household expenses increased steadily in every county in Michigan between 2007 and 2015. The average budget rose by 18 percent, which was above the national rate of inflation of 14 percent during that time period. In 2015, the average annual Household Survival Budget for a Michigan family of four (two adults with one infant and one preschooler) ranged from $43,920 in Osceola County to $64,320 in Macomb County – well above the family FPL of $ 24,250.
- Low-wage Jobs: Low-wage jobs continued to dominate the landscape in Michigan, with 62 percent of all jobs in the state paying less than $20 per hour. At this wage, a family of four falls far short of the Household Survival Budget of $56,064. And, more than two-thirds of these jobs pay less than $15 per hour.
- Assistance for ALICE: Since 2012, the amount needed to bring all ALICE households to financial stability has grown faster than government spending. Health care spending increased by 23 percent, accounting for two-thirds of all public and nonprofit spending on ALICE and poverty-level households. Because services and funds are not typically transferable from one area of need to another, there are large gaps between spending and need in many categories. For example, the gap to meet housing needs is 44 percent and the gap to meet child care is 50 percent.
- Emerging trends: Several trends could change the economic landscape for ALICE families:
- The Michigan population is aging, and many seniors do not have the resources they need to support themselves.
- Differences by race and ethnicity persist, creating challenges for many ALICE families as well as for immigrants in Michigan.
- Low-wage jobs are projected to grow faster than higher-wage jobs over the next decade.
- Technology is changing the workplace, adding some jobs, replacing many others, while also changing where people work, the hours they work, and the skills that are required. Technology creates opportunities as well as challenges for ALICE workers
What is ALICE?
ALICE means Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE households have an income that is higher than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford basic household necessities. These are families that are working, but they still struggle to make ends meet. The United Way ALICE Project started in Morris County, New Jersey in 2009. The ALICE measures were developed to provide a better understanding of who is struggling in our communities. The Federal Poverty Level, how poverty is currently measured, underestimates the number of struggling families in America today. The Project was started to raise awareness about this essential—but previously hidden—part of our communities. The future success of our communities is directly tied to the financial stability of ALICE households.
Who is ALICE?
ALICE is one crisis away from poverty. These families have jobs but still struggle to afford basic necessities. A rent hike, a family illness, the need for new car tires–things that the rest of us see as an inconvenience–are a crisis for ALICE in Midland County and all across our nation. In Midland County, the report found that 23% of all households are ALICE and 11% are in poverty. 1 in 3 families in Midland County are struggling to make ends meet.
The bare-minimum Household Survival Budget does not include any savings, leaving a household vulnerable to unexpected expenses. ALICE households typically earn above the Federal Poverty Level of $11,770 for a single adult and $24,250 for a family of four, but less than the Household Survival Budget.
Why this matters
With 1 in 3 local families struggling to make ends meet, issues that impact the ALICE population have far-reaching consequences throughout the community.
When ALICE suffers and is forced to make difficult choices, we all face serious consequences. In many cases, these are the entry-level jobs that keep our community thriving. ALICE works in all industries, including small businesses, nonprofits, healthcare, corporations, retailers, restaurants and more.
For example, if an ALICE household doesn’t have access to quality childcare, this can lead to lost wages, future burden on the educational system and jeopardizing safety and learning opportunities.
If an ALICE household has an unreliable vehicle, no insurance or no car, the possibility of employee tardiness and absenteeism is increased. Additionally, lack of reliable transportation can also lead to higher insurance premiums and a larger number of unsafe vehicles on the road.
For ALICE households that may not have sufficient health insurance, they may ultimately forego preventative health measures and incur more out-of-pocket expenses. This leads to more sick employees that could spread sickness throughout the workplace, lower productivity, higher insurance premiums and a burden on the healthcare system.
Where is ALICE?
Note: Municipal-level data on this chart is for Places and County Subdivisions, which include Census Designated Places (CDP). These are overlapping geographies so totals will not match county-level data. Municipal-level data often relies on 5-year averages and is not available for the smallest towns that do not report income.
23% of all households in Midland County are ALICE and 11% are in poverty.
How United Way Supports ALICE
United Way of Midland County continues to work to raise awareness about ALICE, and will continue the conversation with community leaders about how we can provide an opportunity for ALICE to succeed. United Way of Midland County invests in programs that connect individuals to the community resources that they need, including access to quality, affordable childcare for working parents. Since ALICE households are only one crisis away from being in poverty, United Way invests in programs that provide a safety net and a hand UP to individuals—providing them with basic needs such as housing, food and utility assistance.
United Way of Midland County has been collaborating with area nonprofits, community stakeholders, organizations and corporations to understand the challenges facing the ALICE population in the community, and to identify and implement solutions.
United Way has partnered with 30 local nonprofits and SVSU to form Midland County Hunger Connections—a collaborative designed to reduce barriers for the hungry. The goal of the group is to engage existing food security partners to foster ideas in which to collaborate to leverage resources, ensuring non-duplication of services. In collaboration with SVSU, a survey was conducted and the results assisted in illustrating our community’s food security needs and determining how our community can improve access.
Food security is an issue for 59.2% of ALICE households in Midland County. Since these households don’t qualify for government assistance programs, they often have to make the difficult decision of paying for housing, utilities and transportation over purchasing enough food for their families. These families, adults and seniors—above the poverty line but still struggling to meet basic needs—don’t always ask for help with food insecurity. In fact, up to 30% of those in need are not utilizing resources that are available to them. United Way of Midland County and 211 NE Michigan have teamed up with area agencies to assist those in need of food resources to raise awareness of food insecurity as well as resources in Midland County. The solution to access is simple—call 211 and their helpful team will guide callers to the resources that can help.
As a way to continue the great work with the Continuum of Care and Homeless Task Force, United Way has been asked to facilitate a collaborative group discussion around the community challenge of housing stability. In addition to exploring the current housing climate, this group is working on educating the community about homelessness and housing instability in Midland County. Starting by listening to individuals and families we serve and understanding their barriers to success, this group will work together on a collaborative community solution to create a pipeline from homelessness to affordable housing.
How to help ALICE
Do you have ALICE employees at your company? United Way of Midland County can help connect ALICE employees with available community resources. Want to learn more about ALICE? United Way of Midland County is also available to hold conversations about ALICE at your office location. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.