United Way

Meeting ALICE

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by Ken Toll

There’s a quote from the classic book, Alice in Wonderland: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” That’s certainly true of the ALICE I want you to meet. Every day brings a new challenge to the people who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – ALICE.

We’ve talked about ALICE before. These are people who have jobs and an income, but they’re living check-to-check at best, just barely keeping their heads above water. Many take on more work, but still can’t get ahead.  One unexpected expense can drop ALICE into poverty.

The Michigan Association of United Ways has been tracking ALICE over the past five years. This helps us understand the unique challenges these individuals and families face, including those right here in Jackson County. This helps us develop partnerships, invest in programs and work with policymakers to help ALICE households get past barriers and build financial stability.

So, what does ALICE look like in Jackson County?

The latest ALICE Report, unveiled last month and containing 2017 data, shows that ALICE is changing in our community:

  • 42% of Jackson County households fall beneath the ALICE threshold—the level where they can become financially stable.
  • Slightly fewer households were in poverty in 2017 than in 2015 (14% vs. 15%). However, many more households fell into the ALICE space, between poverty and stability (29% vs. 21%). This seems to show us that while some households rose out of poverty, many that were once stable—perhaps barely—slipped into ALICE.
  • The ALICE population grew even though unemployment in Jackson County declined from 6.9% in 2015 to 4.5% in 2017!

Why the change? The report offers some reasons:

  • Low-wage jobs dominate the employment landscape, with 61 percent of all jobs in Michigan pay less than $20 per hour. At the same time, an increase in contract jobs and on-demand jobs is leading to less financial stability.
  • For the many households that earned slightly above the ALICE threshold in the past, increases in the cost of living and flat wages have pushed them below the threshold and into financial hardship.

What’s it all mean?

One, the work of our United Way is more important than ever before! Every day we’re fighting to make life better for ALICE by helping them find those pathways. Whether it’s JobSTAR, Energizing Education, 2-1-1, or our partnerships that make VITA, Bridges Out of Poverty and other programs possible, this United Way is leading the fight for financial stability for every person in Jackson County.  And right now, it’s all about financial stability!

Two, we have a lot more work to do! The rising tide of Michigan’s economic recovery isn’t lifting every ship. While our county’s poverty rate is down, there are more households struggling financially.  And we know that bringing a more robust focus on equity will continue to drive our work in new and exciting directions.

The ALICE Report is important because it helps us better understand the people we serve, the struggles they face, and how we can better develop programs, partnerships and strategies to help them. The next step, driving toward our goal of getting 5,000 Jackson County residents on a path to financial stability, is ours to take. OURS – collectively – because United Way can only fix big problems with big support, and this is the biggest and most complex problem we’ve ever tackled.

For ALICE, we’re working hard to help them move forward toward a brighter future—because when ALICE families succeed, we all succeed.  Learn more, and join us.

2019 Jackson County ALICE Report

Help ALICE in Jackson County

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