United Way: Tracking down ALICE

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
A large number of Connecticut families may be working hard on a daily basis, but they still struggle to make ends meet. A recent report released by Connecticut United Ways shows that there are more than 470,000 households in the state are unable to pay for the costs of basic needs.
The report places a spotlight on a population of individuals and families called ALICE, which is an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Using data from a variety of sources such as the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, the report depicts financial need in Connecticut to date and seeks to analyze more in depth why many working families continue to struggle.
According to the United Way ALICE Report, a total of 332,817 Connecticut households fall into the ALICE population, which includes households that earn more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living. This is more than double the number of households that fall below the U.S. poverty level, the report stated.
The report states that ALICE and poverty households combined account for 35 percent of Connecticut households that struggle to make ends meet. For some individuals within the ALICE population, this means not being able to save for their family’s future or to plan for an emergency without falling into poverty.
Connecticut United Ways also have joined with five other states, including California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey to release the statewide ALICE reports, which offer an  analysis of how many households struggle in every town.
“It was important for Connecticut United Ways to…come together as a network,” said Donna Osuch, president and CPO of United Way of West Central Connecticut. “We’re hoping to show that ALICE is coast to coast.”
Noting how there has always been an ALICE population, Osuch said the ALICE report demonstrates that many people are working and paying taxes, but still cannot make ends meet. She said the report will serve as a conversation starter to raise awareness and to further create possible solutions to the problem.
“By talking about it together as a community…different solutions can be raised, empathy can be raised,” said Osuch, adding that it is a complex issue. “It’s about the infrastructure of our community; it includes issues such as transportation…jobs…wages and benefits.”
The ALICE population includes men and women young and old of all races, according to the report. Every town or city in Connecticut has ALICE households. More than two-thirds of Connecticut’s towns and cities have at least 1 in 5 households that fall under the ALICE definition for financial hardship, according to the report.
Nicole McWilliams’s family represents just one of many families throughout the West Central Connecticut area who can relate to other people who make up the ALICE population. In Bristol, there are a total of 25,087 ALICE households, according to United Way of West Central Connecticut’s ALICE report summary. In Plainville, there are 7,591 ALICE households. Within the entire West Central Connecticut population (which includes Bristol, Plainville, Burlington, and Plymouth), a total of 40, 913 households fall within the ALICE definition.
McWilliams said she has seen other families struggle within her own community
“I’m just one person—ALICE is a population of many [people],” said McWilliams, noting how high taxes play a major role in her family’s struggle to make ends meet.
Although her husband holds a steady job as a communications specialist, McWilliams, who lives in the town of Plymouth, said it has been a struggle living pay check to pay check while supporting three children.
“If you look at what he earned and what’s being taken out of that [paycheck], and what he brings home, that’s when it gets tough,” said McWilliams, adding that her family shares one vehicle.
A stay-at-home mother who plans to be employed once her youngest child enters kindergarten, McWilliams said she hopes the ALICE report will raise more awareness about the ALICE population itself. Although Connecticut has one of the highest median hourly wages in the nation, 51 percent of all jobs in the state pay less than $20 an hour, or $40,000/year if employed full-time, the report states. The average annual income needed by a family of four (two adults with one infant and one Pre-K child) is $64,889 in order to survive in Connecticut, the report states, which is more than double the official U.S. poverty level, according to the report.
“I’m hoping someone will start taking a hard look at what our needs are,” said McWilliams, who was not able to finish college due to an unexpected illness. “You have to start bringing people together and say, ‘what can we do?’”
Osuch said if measures are not in place, when an ALICE family or individual hits a crisis, such as a car breakdown or a job loss, they could be close to needing social services.
“There are a lot of families on the edge, and if we don’t do something or raise awareness, there’s always a chance of those families to fall over quickly,” said Osuch, adding that Bristol’s ALICE population is typical in comparison to the rest of the state.
McWilliams, noting her appreciation for the support she receives from her husband as well as other family members who live in surrounding communities, said it is difficult to cover expenses for things that arise unexpectedly.
“Sometimes you have to hold out on one bill just to pay for the necessities,” said McWilliams, adding that saving money for additional costs such as a trip to Disney World is even harder. “We have enough to cover all of those expenses, but things pop up.”
Despite her family’s financial struggle, McWilliams said she has learned more about her community within the last 10 years, as she runs a community Facebook page called “The Social Butterfly” to share information with other people in town on local events or other family-oriented activities happening in the community.
Through her Facebook page, McWilliams said she hopes it the site will continue to grow and serve other people in her community.
“You can plug at it and plug at it, and know you can get through anything,” said McWilliams, who is actively involved in her community, serving on various boards, such as the Parks and Recreation Commission.
For more information on the ALICE report, visit http://ALICE.CTUnitedWay.org/MeetALICE/UWWCCTUWWCCT logo new jpg web ready