United Way Leads Effort To Better Understand Working Poor In Area

The United Way of Southern Chautauqua County now has a means of quantifying one of the area’s most indeterminate demographics using a single acronym: ALICE.

In partnership with its United Way peers throughout New York state, the UWSCC is utilizing what is known as the ALICE Report as a method of documenting financial need on a segment of the population many would refer to as “the working poor.”

The ALICE acronym stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and refers to tens of thousands of Chautauqua County households who have a very modest income, have little or no savings and are one emergency away from falling into financial crisis. The ALICE Report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in the state to date, using the latest data from a variety of sources; including the U.S. Census.

According to Tory Irgang, UWSCC executive director, nearly everybody in the county either knows or identifies as ALICE.

“It’s important to remember that ALICE refers to members of our community who are working and yet still lack sufficient resources to make ends meet,” she said. “ALICE is the recent college graduate unable to afford to live on his or her own, the young family strapped by child care costs and the mid-career professional now underemployed. These folks are vital to our community’s future economic well-being and they face barriers to becoming financially stable.”

Irgang said UWSCC partnered with several other United Way groups throughout the state in requesting the ALICE Report with an aim toward a better understanding of the demographic via concrete data compiled from a previously unexplored combination of sources.

“We know we serve the demographic, and that that’s who is benefiting from a lot of the services in our community; but it’s very hard to get the data because you can’t go to any specific program that’s being run at the state level and download the database from it,” she said.

The ALICE Report includes individuals and households that fall under what is known as the ALICE threshold, which refers to the annual income a household needs to have in order to meet its expenses.

According to the UWSCC’s ALICE Report, the threshold in Chautauqua County is $45,000 for a family of four under the model of two parents, one infant and one preschooler — with child care costs playing the largest role in Chautauqua County household expenditures.

Men and women of all ages and races are also included in the ALICE model. In Chautauqua County, which is still more than 90 percent Caucasian, 46 percent of all households that identify as white are below the ALICE threshold, while 76 percent of all households that identify as Hispanic fall into this category. Nearly 42 percent of seniors ages 65 and older fall below the threshold.

“It’s been interesting to see how this rolls out across the state; and while this isn’t new to our United Way, it’s new to have specific data,” Irgang said. “It’s nice to know how many ALICE households there are in this community and where they are because it should drive us to direct services and service-based programs into those communities.

“The overall message here is that we want the community to be aware of ALICE as a different way of thinking about the challenges that we face,” she added. “Certainly poverty is one of those challenges, but there is also a whole segment of our community who are above the federal poverty line but are still unable to meet their household budget needs on a monthly basis.”

In 2014, the UWSCC established four strategic objectives that line up with helping to alleviate the burden on ALICE families. They are: ensuring families are self-sufficient, everyone is ready to work, young people succeed in school and those in need can find help.

Locally, Irgang said donor dollars are being invested in 42 results-oriented programs at 45 different agencies to provide long-term solutions to the ALICE conundrum. The UWSCC has existing programs that seek to help ALICE households, such as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that provides free tax preparation services to those with an annual income below $54,000.

For more information, or to find data about ALICE in local communities, visit unitedwayalice.org or visit United Way of Southern Chautauqua County at uwayscc.org.