Points of View

2019 ALICE Report: Who’s Struggling in West Michigan

Alex Andrews

Who is ALICE?

Throughout West Michigan, as with the rest of the nation, there are many households who struggle to afford their basic necessities despite having one or both householders working. Although they might be above the federally-established poverty threshold, these families are still severely limited in their capacities to afford basic things like housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation — presenting barriers to employment which further exacerbate the hardships endured by such households. 


Families who find themselves in the situation described above are considered ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed. This term was first introduced by the United Way in 2009, working with a team in New Jersey to more accurately identify those families who were working, but still restricted in their ability to cover their expenses. Since then, nineteen states have adopted the ALICE methodology to assess their populations through data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. 


Using this data, the ALICE project is able to create Survival and Sustainable budgets for households of specific sizes and structures, and tailor those budgets to the cost of living associated with geographies as small as counties, cities, or townships. In doing this, ALICE can provide a picture of the Economic Viability of an area, including Housing Affordability, Job Opportunities, and Community Support. 


ALICE Trends, Statewide

In Michigan, the latest ALICE report was released in March of 2019 with Census data captured in 2017 and portrayed that 43 percent of Michigan households earned incomes below the ALICE Threshold that year. This represents a 6 percent increase from the proportion of households across the state who were unable to afford their basic necessities in 2010, when the bare-minimum Household Survival Budget for a family of four stood at nearly $48,246. Despite experiencing a modest inflation rate of 12 percent over the period from 2010 to 2017, Michigan’s average bare-minimum Household Survival Budget for a family of four has risen by 27% over the subsequent period. While most-recently calculated at $61,272 in 2017, however, the United Way’s 2019 ALICE Report now includes an additional expense related to technology in all estimated Household Survival Budgets — stipulating that smart phones are essential to maintaining employment in the contemporary economy. 


Of the 1,664,606 households across the state with incomes below the ALICE Threshold in 2017, just over one-third (536,594 households) also earned incomes below the Federal Poverty Level — comprising nearly 14 percent of all households across Michigan. Comparatively, just over 15 percent (571,625) of households met the same qualifications in 2010, when an estimated 41 percent of households across the state were living with incomes below the ALICE Threshold. 


Who’s Struggling in West Michigan?

The ALICE project uses Census data to create Survival and Sustainable budgets for households of specific sizes and structures, tailoring those budgets to the cost of living associated with geographies as small as counties, cities, or townships. The Household Survival Budget calculated for West Michigan’s 13 counties stipulates that a single adult had to earn at least $20,916 in 2017 to afford their basic necessities. For a family of four with 2 adults, 1 infant, and a Preschooler, a combined annual income of $59,304 was required to cover basic expenses in 2017.  


             West Michigan Household Survival Budget


With respect to the 13-county West Michigan region, the latest ALICE Report would indicate that 39 percent of households earned incomes below the ALICE Threshold in 2017. Of the 231,803 households across the region who fell into this category, 65,380 (11%) also earned incomes below the Federal Poverty Level. Although this represents only a slight improvement to the number of households earning above the ALICE Threshold in the time since 2010, nearly 3 percent of ALICE households across West Michigan moved above the Federal Poverty Limit as of 2017. Access the full report to see how your county compares: https://www.unitedwayalice.org/home


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