Almost half of Big Bend residents are struggling to afford basic necessities even though many of them hold steady jobs with regular paychecks, according to a new report by United Way of the Big Bend. The report, which offers insights into ways the community can improve the economic situation for these individuals, highlights households that earn more than the U.S. poverty rate of $23,050 for a family but still fall short of meeting the basic cost of living.
“Thousands of people in our community live above the poverty line but are still just one catastrophe away from tumbling into the vicious poverty cycle,” said Heather Mitchell, president and CEO of United Way of the Big Bend. “Quick fixes are not what’s going to help people move forward – we need to change the conversation on this issue. Now more than ever, it is critically important that those of us with the resources to support community programs invest in our neighbors.”
The report focuses on the so-called ALICE population, those who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed. The ALICE population represents almost one in three Florida households with families who are working but, due to such things as childcare expenses, transportation challenges and the overall high cost of living are living paycheck to paycheck.
In the eight-county Big Bend area, a total of 75,267 households fall into this category. Residents of these ALICE households hold jobs in positions that are vital to the local economy, but they simply do not earn enough to cover the cost of living. As a result, they often must depend on public assistance.
In Leon County, for example, 46 percent of households – some 49,708 households – fall under the ALICE threshold, often putting them in a constant struggle to make ends meet.
“It’s so hard for us to have anything left over at the end of the month,” said Tiffany, a working mother of three living in the Tallahassee area. “My husband and I are employed full-time and our entire income goes into paying the day-to-day expenses – we have to use everything we bring in just to meet our basic needs, and even then it isn’t enough. I participated in the ‘Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World’ class while I was working on my graduate degree. The program helped me focus on my long-term goals to meet the needs of my family and not get swept up by the hardships of the moment. We are still working on building our savings so we will be able to buy a home in the future.”
Tiffany’s family, like so many other families in the Big Bend, might be just one medical crisis or lost job away from falling below the poverty line. These families only have the financial means to provide the bare minimum, and this doesn’t allow for much savings. Many households are dangerously vulnerable to unexpected expenses or circumstances that threaten their income, health, safety and future.
The ALICE report includes ways the economic situation could be improved for these households, including:
Public and private intervention to provide short-term financial stability increasing the supply of affordable housing available to ALICE families improving income opportunities so ALICE families can build savings and become financially independent
“Every one of us knows someone in the ALICE population – the middle-aged man who bags our groceries, the recent college graduate looking to launch a career, the single parent working two jobs to make ends meet,” said Tim Center, executive director of the Capital Area Community Action Agency. “Economic development is a human service and our community can do more. We can help people increase their skills and education to improve the workforce, encourage us to live within our means, and assist employers to grow and provide opportunities for ALICE individuals to move beyond their current circumstances.”
United Way of the Big Bend supports dozens of programs aimed at helping ALICE families improve their circumstances and become thriving members of the community, but there is still more work to be done.
“The ALICE report confirms what many workforce development professionals already know, that many hard-working families and individuals do not earn a wage that allows them to meet all of their basic needs. We want our community to know that CareerSource Capital Region assists individuals in obtaining the skills, training and work experience necessary, not only to successfully compete in today’s job market, but also to earn a self-sufficient wage,” said Jim McShane, CEO of CareerSource Capital Region. “When partners such as CareerSource Capital Region, economic development councils, educational institutions, local employers, United Way and other resource agencies come together to meet the needs of struggling households in our communities, we all win.”
United Way organizations across six states commissioned the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark to conduct the ALICE research. Included in the report are county and town level data for communities throughout Florida.
To give to United Way of the Big Bend, you can donate online at www.uwbb.org or you can print a UWBB pledge form from the website and send in a check to UWBB, 307 East 7th Ave., Tallahassee, Fl. 32303.