Meet ALICE

“Although I am older than most of the population [at UWGB] and poor, no one sees that (thankfully).

My eliminating my face by using my hair is me expressing the fact that you can’t see my individualness.

You can’t see my poverty. You can’t see my age. I’m just a girl.”

Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed: 

ALICE represents households with income above the Federal Poverty Level but below the basic cost of living. These hard-working individuals are one unexpected expense away from slipping into poverty. 

The ALICE Report provides current research-based data that quantifies who in Wisconsin, and Brown County, is living on the edge of financial insecurity. Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed individuals are striving for financial stability but face complex barriers.

One in three Brown County households lives below the ALICE Threshold and struggles to meet basic needs.

The lived experiences and challenges of ALICE community members impact our entire community. When we lift up ALICE in our community, we all benefit. Brown County United Way knows we need to go beyond temporary fixes and create proactive solutions around the building blocks of a quality and stable life: connection to community, education, financial wellbeing, and health – providing hope and the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive.

Brown County United Way uses the ALICE Report to raise awareness in order to create lasting changes that will improve lives and strengthen local communities. Solutions to these community challenges will take a collaborative approach from every corner of our county.

The Path to Stability:

We have challenged ourselves and our community to put 10,000 individuals on the path to stability in ten years. We understand that ALICE families and individuals need our help. By volunteering, advocating, and giving, Brown County United Way has committed to stabilizing the lives of those in Brown County who have a true need.

No parent should have to make the decision between childcare and which bill they will skip this month. No senior should have to make the decision about which medication they will skip today. No college student should have to make the decision between which meals to skip because they can only afford to eat once a day.

This is a systemic problem that will not be solved with one magic bullet. Our entire community must work together. Policymakers, academics, businesses, social service agencies and everyday community members can solve these systematic issues and put those living below the ALICE Threshold on the path to stability.

ALICE in the Community: 

ALICE families and individuals have jobs, but many do not qualify for social services or support. The jobs held by ALICE individuals are critical to the success of our communities – childcare workers, laborers and movers, home health aides, heavy truck drivers, store clerks, repair workers and office assistants – yet, they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to put dinner on the table each night.

Who is ALICE in Brown County?

  • College students and recent graduates working and saddled with tuition debt
  • Young families struggling to pay for childcare
  • Underemployed – less than full-time work and no benefits
  • Military – travel and demanding jobs
  • People with disabilities – less income, more costs
  • Family caregivers for people with disabilities and seniors
  • Seniors – loss of income, rising costs, health issues

ALICE families and individuals can be anyone. Some demographic differences can influence the struggles of our ALICE population in Brown County. Often, technology is said to be the root of the split between “high-skill, high-wage” and “low-skill, low-wage” jobs. However, there are other factors that better explain job inequality in Wisconsin, including discrimination faced by women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals.

Gender: In general, women’s wages are lower than men’s in Wisconsin. Men earn 26 percent more in both full-time and part-time jobs. Among the college educated, men’s wages grew more than twice as fast as women’s wages nationally between 2000 and 2015. While gender wage gaps narrowed during those years for people without a college degree, they grew among people with an advanced degree.

Race and ethnicity: In both earnings and employment, the difference between racial and ethnic groups in Wisconsin is are stark. Since 2010, White workers have had the highest median annual earnings and they have increased steadily, to $35,014 in 2016. For Asian workers, the median income in 2019 was 30,871 and for Hispanic workers, $24,116. African American workers have the lowest median earnings at $21,316, and have not experienced much improvement since 2010.

LGBTQ status: Differences in employment and wages are even greater for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. Despite having more education than the general population, these workers are more likely to earn less than their heterosexual counterparts, and more likely to experience financial hardship, such as poverty and food insecurity, as a result.

Breaking Down the Cost of Living in Wisconsin: 

Despite recent reports of overall improvement in employment and median household incomes, the economic recovery in Wisconsin has been uneven. Many families still face the challenges of low wages, depleted savings, and increasing costs of basic household goods. The total number of households that cannot afford basic needs increased 5 percent between 2010 and 2016. In fact, the cost of the family budget increased by 18 percent from 2010 to 2016, higher than the national rate of inflation of 9 percent during those years.

The Household Survival Budget reflects the bare minimum that a household needs to live and work today. The ALICE Report found that the annual Household Survival Budget for a family of four in Brown County is $63,792, and for a single adult, $19,368. Still, low-wage jobs continue to dominate the employment landscape in Wisconsin, with 62 percent of all jobs paying less than $20 an hour. With more contract work and on-demand jobs, job instability also increased, making it difficult for ALICE workers to meet regular monthly expenses, or to save.

Public and private assistance continues to provide support to those living in poverty or earning slightly above the Federal Poverty Line. However, these programs provide less support to ALICE families and individuals whose income is above eligibility levels. ALICE households exist in a grey area; these households are above the Federal Poverty Line but earn less than the average income that a household needs to afford the basic necessities.

What the ALICE Report is NOT:

  • Simply an income problem.
  • A political position, but rather a body of data that helps us understand the economic realities of this population.
  • A stance on raising the minimum wage. This alone would not help ALICE rise above challenging circumstances
  • A finger pointing – or finger wagging – to Wisconsin’s businesses. The engine of local economics knows that in order for their business to thrive, their community has to as well.
  • An “us” or “them” report but an illumination of daily financial struggles many of us face – including those who fall below the poverty line.  United Way is invested in improving the community – and that means all members of the community.  While there are different tactics for different needs, United Way focuses on strategies that fight for the education, financial stability and health of everyone in every community – the building blocks of a stable life.

A True Need:

  • By comparing real incomes with real expenses, the United Way ALICE Report revealed that 37.5% of Wisconsin households are living on the edge of financial insecurity.
  • In Wisconsin, 37.5% of households live below the ALICE Threshold – 11.7% live below the poverty level and another 25.8% are above poverty but below the basic cost of living.
  • ALICE households are working, but struggle to afford the basics of housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.
  • There are nearly 600,626 ALICE households in Wisconsin. Together with those in poverty (271,935), there are 872,561 households unable to make ends meet in Wisconsin.
  • ALICE and poverty-level households represent more than 35 percent of households in most Wisconsin towns and cities.
  • Despite working and receiving financial supports, ALICE still faces large gaps in the income needed to survive and afford the basics in Wisconsin, especially in key areas of housing (47%), child care (53%), and transportation (53%).

If you or your company is interested in helping us with our goal to place 10,000 people on the path to stability in ten years, contact Sarah Inman at Sarah@browncountyunitedway.org.

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View the Full ALICE Report