April 26, 2023 (Racine, WI) — According to a new report from United Way of Racine County partner United For ALICE, the ranks of Racine County households unable to afford the basics decreased slightly from 27,452 households in 2019 to 27,290 households in 2021.
That calculation includes the 9,850 households in poverty as well as the 17,440 households in 2021 defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy. ALICE families have been overlooked and undercounted by traditional poverty measures. ALICE is the nation’s child care workers, home health aides and cashiers heralded during the pandemic — those working low-wage jobs with little or no savings and one emergency away from poverty.
The new report, titled Alice in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship in Wisconsin, is the fourth in a series of reports on ALICE families. The data reflected in this report was collected in during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. During this same time frame, the State of Wisconsin as a whole saw a slight increase in the number of ALICE households, from 32 percent of households in 2019 to 34 percent of households in 2021.
The slight decline in the number of ALICE households in Racine County may reflect the addition of temporary supports offered during the pandemic. While job disruptions and inflation delivered significant financial pain, a combination of pandemic supports and rising wages did help to blunt what could have been a deeper financial crisis, the report finds. However, as some benefits are peeled back, and inflation persists, signs of greater financial stress are on the horizon.
“It could have been so much worse for these families, whose struggle to feed their families, afford health care and access quality education was often hidden in plain sight until the pandemic,” said President and CEO of United Way of Racine County Ali Haigh. “Equipped with the ALICE name and data, we can do even better to develop effective policies and track our progress toward reducing financial hardship in Racine County. We have an opportunity to build on what was learned during the pandemic as ALICE continues to face economic uncertainty.”
According to the report, for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the annual ALICE Household Survival Budget, which is the basic cost needed to live and work in Wisconsin, was $86,172 in 2021 in Racine County. The Child Tax Credit and Child Dependent Care Tax Credit helped to soften the blow, bringing the family Survival Budget down to $70,968.
Even with the variety of temporary pandemic supports available, in 2021, a family of four with two full-time workers earning salaries as a retail salesperson and a cashier (two of the most common occupations in Wisconsin) still fell short of affording the family budget by $4,596, or six percent.
“A positive change during the pandemic was that tax credits, stimulus payments and rental assistance were available for ALICE households and provided strong relief,” said Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., United For ALICE National Director. “However, as some of these supports come to an end, growing food insufficiency and other indicators reveal continued stress. Ignoring these warning signs places ALICE, our economy and the well-being of our communities at great risk.”
Additional report insights include:
- Racial disparities persist in the rates of financial hardship. In Wisconsin in 2021, White households were one of the largest population sizes in Wisconsin, and 650,760 White households (or 32 percent) were below the ALICE threshold. In comparison, although Hispanic and Black households had lower population sizes, more households in these demographics qualified as ALICE. In 2021, 52,865 Hispanic households (or 46 percent) and 87,047 Black households (or 64 percent) were below the ALICE threshold.
- Sixty-five percent of the 20 most common jobs in Wisconsin paid less than $20 per hour. As a result, many of these top jobs still had a substantial percentage of workers who were either ALICE or in poverty in 2021.
- In Wisconsin, in Federal Reserve surveys, the percentage of respondents who were either ALICE or in poverty reported seeing emergency savings drop from 33 percent in October 2019 to 31 percent by November 2021. Meanwhile, those survey respondents who were financially stable saw emergency savings rise from 57 percent in October 2019 to 75 percent by November 2021.
To read the report and access online, interactive dashboards that provide data on financial hardship at the state, county and local level, visit: UnitedWayRacine.org/ALICE.