Workers just above poverty level need, and deserve, our help

Quote by Claire Reid

Times Union Commentary: Workers just above poverty level need, and deserve, our help

Claire Reid |  January 7, 2022

In the early days of the pandemic, we celebrated — and finally recognized — our essential workforce for their strength, courage, and resilience in keeping communities afloat.

But many of these workers, whom we continue to rely on daily, struggle to afford the basics. They fall into a demographic we call ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).

ALICE works hard, sometimes at two or three jobs, and earns above the poverty level but not nearly enough to afford the lowest-cost options for household basics. Still, many continue to risk their health to serve our meals, deliver our online orders, meet community needs, care for our elderly and check out our groceries. As this pandemic drags on, ALICE continues to show up for all of us. In turn, we all need to show up for ALICE.

The growing population of ALICE households and those in poverty account for 41 percent of the households in the Capital Region, according to United For ALICE, a research and analysis group that’s been dedicated to strengthening the awareness and understanding of ALICE for over a decade. Within the overall ALICE population, we see stark disparities that long predate the pandemic: In the Capital Region, 66 percent of Black Households, 56 percent of LatinX households, and 74 percent of households headed by single mothers are ALICE. Such disproportionate percentages point to long-standing inequities and injustices and the interconnections between racism, sexism, and financial exclusion. We see, for example, percentages of ALICE far above the regional average, some as high as 79 to 84 percent, in areas where redlining was long practiced here.

United for ALICE’s latest report confirms that the pandemic hit ALICE households and those in poverty hardest. A U.S. Census survey shows nearly 60 percent of these struggling households experienced a loss of income due to the pandemic, compared with 40 percent of households that afforded the basics before COVID-19 hit.

ALICE workers were more likely than higher-wage workers to face reduced hours and employment barriers related to child care, health concerns, and access to reliable transportation, according to United for ALICE surveys of 45,000 individuals across eight states, including New York. ALICE households were far more likely to face obstacles related to caregiving for a child, older adult or person with special needs, compared with 20 percent of financially stable households, or to have to quit a job due to a lack of child care during the pandemic. And 44 percent of those below the ALICE threshold are now experiencing elevated symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The stakes are high for all of us, in particular for ALICE. If ALICE’s recovery falters, so too will the country’s.

We invite you to join the United Way of the Greater Capital Region in the ALICE movement, using ALICE research to identify those immediate basic needs and drive the long-term systemic change needed to advance equity and create the conditions in which everyone can thrive. The research is open-source, fully accessible, and actionable.

Some examples: If you design action-research initiatives or human service programs, drill down by ZIP code or census tract to better see how disparities and geography align. Strategically design and fund accordingly. If you establish eligibility requirements for funding or social support programs, consider raising your income eligibility beyond the demonstrably too low Federal Poverty Level to include ALICE. If you’re concerned about workforce development, consider what an hourly wage must be in this region so that employees can make enough to thrive, not just survive; consider, too, how other workforce supports, such as child care, transportation, and health insurance can help ALICE. If you draft policy or legislation, know that financial hardship is in fact much more widespread than is commonly acknowledged or reflected in the design of our social safety net.

Let’s all of us pay greater attention to connections and interdependence so that, by working together, we can turn our gratitude into a large-scale and sustainable effort to lift up ALICE.


Claire Reid, Chief Impact Officer of United Way of the Greater Capital Region


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