Roughly 40% of households in our tri-county area live on the verge of financial instability, struggling to cover their basic needs as the cost of living continues to outpace earnings. That’s almost 128,000 households.
In the tri-county, a family of four making $60,000 or less is often just one medical bill, one car repair, one emergency away from slipping into a cycle of financial instability. Having to decide between repairing that car you need to get to work or paying a medical bill is an impossible choice, yet many of our neighbors are faced with these kinds of decisions every day.
ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, is a new way of defining and understanding the struggles of individuals and families who earn above the federal poverty level but not enough to afford all their basic necessities.
We all know ALICE families. In fact, many of us are ALICE or have been ALICE. ALICE is our neighbors, our friends and our relatives.
ALICE is often employed full-time, or has multiple jobs, but is still living paycheck to paycheck without much financial cushion to fall back on in an emergency. And, unfortunately, the number of these families is growing, not just in our community, but across the country.
While financial hardship spans all demographics in our area, for communities of color there is the additional burden of systemic inequities and the disparate financial recovery post-COVID, which has kept many from attaining or regaining financial stability.
Those in the ALICE population are often overlooked because they don’t fit into a traditional category of poverty. While they are not unhoused or receiving government assistance, primarily because they don’t qualify, they still face tremendous financial hardship.
In the tri-county this year, the top request coming into our 2-1-1 Helpline has been rent payment assistance. These requests were up 47% from the first six months of last year. In addition to receiving the most requests this year, it was also the category that had the largest increase in calls. The second-highest request was for another basic need: electric service payment assistance. Of these callers, 36% have some source of employment (fulltime, part-time or self-employed), 27% were employed full-time, 72% identified as black/African American, and 76% of callers identified as female.
These are not just statistics. These are real people with real lives and real stories. These are parents who are working multiple jobs just to put food on the table. These are children who are going to bed hungry because there simply isn’t enough to go around. These are seniors who are forced to choose between paying for their medication and paying their utility bills.
At Trident United Way, we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive. That’s why we partnered with the United Ways of South Carolina and United for ALICE to produce the ALICE Report, which will provide clear, measurable data to support resources and policy change for the ALICE population in our community.
This inaugural ALICE Report shines a light on the 43% of South Carolina households that work hard but never seem to get ahead. This economic snapshot provides the United Ways of South Carolina, our nonprofit partners and community leaders with tools and resources to assist ALICE individuals and families as the cost of living continues to rise.
We know the challenges facing ALICE families are complex, and there is no single solution that will resolve everything. But we also know we cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer. We must recognize the hardships ALICE families face, which are often invisible, and we must come together and commit ourselves to building a community where everyone has the opportunity to prosper.
Today we are urging you to join us in this important work. Donate your time, your resources or your voice to support ALICE in our community, because UNITED we thrive.
To learn more please visit TUW.org/ALICE.
DJ Hampton II is president and CEO of Trident United Way. Katie Reams is director of United for ALICE, Trident United Way.