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 Walla Walla 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 the FPL reports that only 14 percent of Pacific Northwest households face financial hardship, the ALICE Threshold provides a clearer and more updated estimate. In 2013:
• In Idaho, 15 percent (87,233 households) lived in poverty, and 22 percent (130,397 households) were ALICE.
• In Oregon, 15 percent (230,328 households) lived in poverty, and 23 percent (346,700 households) were ALICE.
• In Washington, 13 percent (343,878 households) lived in poverty and 19 percent (510,342 households) were ALICE.
In Walla Walla County, 17 percent (3,640 households) lived in poverty and 28 percent (5,996 households) were ALICE.
In Columbia County, 17 percent (281 households) lived in poverty and 21 percent (347 households) were ALICE.
Why are there so many ALICE households in the Pacific Northwest?
Low wage jobs dominate the local economy: More 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.
The basic cost of living is high: 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) ranges from $46,176 in Idaho to $52,152 in Washington — double the U.S. family poverty rate of $23,550.
Jobs are not located near housing that is affordable: Through the Great Recession, both housing affordability and job opportunities dropped steeply. Housing continued to decline slightly from 2010 to 2013 and job opportunities on average stayed flat, so it remains difficult for ALICE households in the Pacific Northwest to find both housing affordability and job opportunities in the same county.
Public and private assistance helps, but doesn’t achieve financial stability: Assistance provides essential support for households below the ALICE Threshold but cannot lift all households to economic stability. Government, nonprofit, and health care organizations spend $21 billion on services for ALICE and poverty-level households in the region to supplement their income, but even that total is still 25 percent short of lifting all households in the Pacific Northwest above the ALICE Threshold.
Why undertake the ALICE study?
The federal poverty rate is commonly regarded as inadequate for measuring the true scope of financial need in the country. United Way believes in a research-based model in order to fully understand and best respond to the needs of our communities. We wanted to understand the causes of the problems, not just the end results. We also sought to provide objective, comprehensive data that can be used for serious policy planning in every arena.
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 Walla Walla 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 Walla Walla 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.
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.