ALICE report shows state of Portage County families
By Melanie Rossi
PORTAGE COUNTY – United Way of Wisconsin released their 2023 ALICE Report, which presents the data that reflect the percentage of Wisconsin households living below the ALICE threshold.
ALICE — which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — includes households who fall above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) but still earn less than required to meet the basic costs of living in their county.
As the base of their research, United Way’s 2023 ALICE Report used data collected in 2021 during the height of governmental COVID-19 assistance programs, which included “housing assistance, expanded unemployment insurance, stimulus checks, expanded tax credits and a nationwide eviction moratorium,” the report reads.
Despite the implementation of these measures, the 2023 ALICE Report reveals a 2% increase in the number of households situated below the ALICE threshold in Wisconsin; 32% of households were reported to be below the line in 2019, while 2023’s report states that 34% of Wisconsin households now fall below that line.
In Portage County, the percentage is slightly less.
Based on the data collected in 2021, 31% of Portage County households fall below the ALICE threshold, 11% of which also fall below the Federal Poverty Level.
While this data reflects a 6% decrease compared with the data from 2019 in Portage County, the public assistance provided through COVID-19 programs — which has now begun to be unwinded — suggests that this decrease may not be as positive as it appears.
Mae Nachman, vice president of Community Impact at the United Way of Portage County, explained that a main reason for these continued high percentages is the inflated costs of the Household Survival Budget, the minimum costs to live and work in the modern economy.
“For a family of four,” she said, “you need to be making 32 dollars an hour to be meeting your basic needs. The reality is, how many are actually achieving that? ALICE generally doesn’t make enough in wages to achieve their basic needs.”
The results of the 2023 ALICE report have allowed United Way to discover specific areas in the county that need the most attention, especially throughout the pandemic.
“Some of the issues like child care became a much more critical issue during COVID-19 because of people being disrupted from jobs and needing to work longer hours. . . I think some of those issues came more to the forefront and became more critical to the economy in our community,” she added.
The data discovered by researchers and shared in the report acts as a tool that allows governments and communities to recognize areas where change is needed.
“Some of the issues like housing have certainly come to our attention,” Nachman said. “We don’t have enough affordable housing to support the needs of our community. So I think [the report] just brought more light to what was already happening pre-COVID-19.”
Fred Hebblewhite, CEO of the United Way of Portage County, said, “This report, not only here in Portage County but wherever these reports are done, really highlights the fact that there are a lot of hardworking people out there who are just barely making ends meet.”
Beginning at Rutgers University in 2009 and starting work with United Way in 2012, the ALICE Report now extends its data collection to over half of the United States.
Hebblewhite said, “The ALICE Report, in my view, is a better way of looking at what are the true needs of individuals in our community. The Federal Poverty Level looks at the extreme needs, but there are a lot of people working hard, trying to get ahead, that are just barely making enough to cover basic needs. That’s a big part of what we’re doing; we’re looking hard to see who needs the assistance and how can United Way work for these families.”
During the pandemic, when families moved according to their needs and the nation’s economy encountered a large shift, the goal of United Way and the ALICE Report was to document these new changes within individual counties.
“There were a lot of changes that were happening,” Nachman said, “and United Way wanted to understand what changed in their own county, and that’s one of the great things about the ALICE report. We get a report for each one of the 72 counties in Wisconsin, so we are able to drill down and find out what is the cost of child care, what is the cost of housing and transportation and food and health care, so that we are able to understand what actually is happening within Portage County.
“Then, as United Way, we look to address or supplement or support those folks who are struggling to make ends meet. . . We’re talking about people that are working one, two or three jobs to make ends meet, but they’re not making it. So we need to understand what’s happening in Portage County so we can better address those needs in our community.”
And unlike the Federal Poverty Level, which encompasses a diverse range of people and places into one static number, Hebblewhite said that the ALICE report “digs in.”
“If you dig into the ALICE report, it’ll show you the cost of living almost down to the township level. . . It’s a pretty in-depth report,” he said.
Compiling county-specific information, the ALICE report thus acts as a resource for local governments and communities to recognize, and later begin to address, their county’s most pressing concerns.
“If you’re looking for support, you may not find it within the ALICE Report, but you can find it by calling 211 — that is the most effective resource and referral opportunity supported by United Way. People can call there and find out — if they’re facing eviction, or they don’t have enough food to eat, they’re food insecure, they need transportation — they can dial 211 and find out where those resources are available,” Nachman said.
Communications and Marketing Manager Hannah Klein said that the ALICE report works best for those who are “looking to potentially get grants or funding; it’s a really great tool for that. . . It’s a great resource for those in government, in United Way or in other nonprofits.”
For people who are struggling financially, dialing 2-1-1 can provide them with 24/7 free and confidential support.
To read the 2023 ALICE report or learn more about it, visit https://unitedwaywi.org/page/ALICE.