What is ALICE? Who is affected?

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February 28, 2017

What is ALICE? Who is affected?

By JONATHAN SCHOLLES

Email: jscholles@sun-herald.com

STAFF WRITER – Charlotte Sun

ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed, and focuses on employed people earning more than the federal poverty level, but who are struggling financially.

United Way began ALICE studies two years ago.

Simply, ALICE can be defined as the working poor — those living paycheck to paycheck and unable to save for emergencies.

The federal poverty level hasn’t been updated since 1965 and many government agencies have been using inflated percentages — up to 200 percent — as thresholds for determining need.

ALICE, which is used in 14 states, works differently. It analyzes key metric groups, including employment, population changes and even average food costs, to determine poverty’s impact on the individual and society.

Nearly 30 percent of all Florida households fit this criteria and are a paycheck away from spiraling into poverty.

“Florida is recovering but not all counties are recovering the same; some are falling further behind,” Lars Gilbert, the United Way’s statewide ALICE director, said during a news conference Wednesday. “This is a challenging conversation, but one we need to have.”

Each county is noticing the effects of poverty differently. For example, 70 percent of Union County’s population meets poverty and ALICE criteria, which is defined as the average income a household needs to afford the basic necessities.

On the other end of the spectrum, only 28 percent of St. John’s County fits this mold.

Locally, both Charlotte (40 percent) and Sarasota (33 percent) counties are below the ALICE criteria. However, each have municipalities with poorer populations.

DeSoto County is above the state average with 58 percent of its population either living in poverty or meeting ALICE requirements. According to the data, 62 percent of single-mother households live in poverty, while 71 percent of single father homes fall into the ALICE range.

“Poverty is an incredibly complicated issue, but our response shouldn’t be,” said Carrie Blackwell Hussey, executive director of Charlotte County’s United Way.

“Tens of thousands of Charlotte County residents are struggling to make ends meet each and every month,” she added. “What the ALICE study allows us to do is to measure financial security in a real way; how many of our neighbors and friends are barely getting by?”

WHO’S ALICE?

Like Christine Bowers of Port Charlotte, many of those affected are single parents.

A combined 79 percent of single mothers in the state live in poverty or below the ALICE threshold, while 65 percent of single fathers meet that same criteria. And 100 percent of single mothers in Lafayette County live in poverty. Liberty County’s numbers are 100 percent of single mothers either living in poverty or meeting ALICE requirements, while 72 percent of single fathers are ALICE candidates.

DeSoto County isn’t far off, 97 percent of its single mothers either live in poverty or meet ALICE criteria, while 88 percent of single fathers fall into this category.

“I’ve been a struggling mom; I know what its like,” said Terri Britton, board president of United Way of South Sarasota County. “You can have a decent job, but heaven forbid something happens and it puts you into a tail spin. Everyone in our community recognizes those hardships. There are some success stories that will bring a tear in your eye.”

Poverty doesn’t discriminate by race, age, sex or religion. The effects of ALICE are widespread. In digging into the data, researchers unraveled new issues, including what many refer to as the “gig economy,” a movement of people shifting from full-time employment to multiple freelance or contract jobs, providing short-term lucrative wages but placing more burden on employers.

A statistic the report uncovered is 75 percent of people under 25 live either in poverty or in ALICE.

“That’s our future workforce, the future of our state and one out of every four lives in poverty,” said Jerry Parrish, a chief economist and director of research at Florida Chamber Foundation as well as a researcher of the 258-page report.

“The labor market is not fair toward its workers and it’s time for us to get serious,” he added.

By 2030, Florida — the nation’s third most populous state with 20.2 million people and 16th largest economy in the world — is expected to grow by 6 million residents. And during that span, Florida Chamber is projecting the state will need to add 2 million jobs to accommodate the influx.

“Seventy-seven percent of the state runs on sales tax and other revenues. We need as many people possible working and making money, and spending it on taxable goods,” Parrish said.