Nancy Vaughan column: ALICE reports document a decade of ongoing challenges

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Nancy Vaughan For The Herald Bulletin
 Jun 27, 2020 
The most recent United Way-sponsored look at financial hardship in Indiana and many other states was released amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, providing a backstory to the devastation of the shutdown.
A closer look at demographics contained in the report also supports the concurrent Black Lives Matter focus on systemic racism.
The ALICE report, issued every two years, provides a framework, language, and tools to measure and understand the struggles of the population we call ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — over the past decade. The report documents the number of households that, although above the federal poverty level, do not earn enough to be financially stable.
The data for Madison County tells much the same story as for the state: steady economic improvements according to traditional measures, but persistent levels of hardship for nearly 40% of overall households and for a significantly higher percent of specific segments of our population.
Madison County disparities mirror those of the state overall. Racially, our households are 89% white, 8% Black, 2% Hispanic. While the overall number of households in our county below the ALICE threshold is 39%, by racial breakdown it is 36% for white households, 66% for Black households and 42% for Hispanic households.
Other significant disparities exist for married versus single households with children. Just 20% of married households fall into ALICE while 82% of single female-headed households and 57% of single male-headed households are below the ALICE threshold. Our youngest households also struggle more: 66% of those households under age 25 are below the ALICE threshold.
Over time, the report has documented trends related to cost of living and essential household budgets, the changing landscape of work, gaps in resources and other health, education and social factors. This report highlights three critical trends:
• The rising cost of living for ALICE households
• Increasing worker vulnerability combined with stagnant wages
• The number of ALICE households is increasing and at a faster rate
Researchers were able to add additional data on the impact of COVID-19 on ALICE households before the release of this report last month, noting: “The current crisis is demonstrating how exposed ALICE households — and therefore our communities and businesses — are to an emergency.”
Specifically, ALICE workers play essential roles in state and local economies but often lack sufficient income, adequate health coverage and access to other benefits that would help them withstand the crisis. They are disproportionately affected by closures of schools and child care because they lack the ability to work from home and often lack technology to access online services.
The current ALICE report adds some features, including a closer look at senior (65+) households. These are most susceptible to COVID-19 and an increasing number — 43% in Madison County — struggle financially.
The report concludes that if all households in Indiana were above the ALICE threshold, state GDP would increase by $57.5 billion. The numbers confirm that lifting up those most marginalized is the best path to building communities that thrive.
Find the complete ALICE report at