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Report Shows Working Poor Labor Force Is Growing In NY

Courtesy of United Way

A new report shows New York’s working poor labor force is growing. Throughout the state, the population is nearing 50 percent and struggling to make ends meet and afford basic necessities. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne takes a closer look at the report, meant to be a call to action.

It’s the first United Way of New York State ALICE report. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Stephanie Hoopes is lead researcher and director of the United Way ALICE project, which originated in New Jersey in 2012.

“We live in a country where, if you work hard, you think that you should be able to support your family,” Hoopes says. “And yet the data in this report clearly shows that that’s not the case for many families. And we see so many households where one or both parents are working hard, sometimes two jobs, and still not able to provide that basic, bare minimum budget. It’s hard to see.”

The report shows that in New York, 2.1 million households have incomes above the poverty level but below the ALICE threshold budget for survival. ALICE residents lack sufficient income and resources to meet basic needs like housing, food, child care, transportation and health care.

“Forty-four percent of households in New York don’t earn enough to afford a basic household budget,” Hoopes says. “I don’t think anyone in the field is surprised but to have that hard number is eye opening.”

To meet New York’s average ALICE threshold for survival, a single adult needs an annual income of $20,496 or $10.25/hour. In Dutchess and Orange Counties, to meet the average ALICE threshold for survival, a single adult needs an annual income of $25,440 or $12.72/hour. Jeannie Montano is president and CEO of United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region.

“For us here in the Dutchess-Orange region, it’s about 29 percent, which was definitely alarming,” Montano says. “I think the other thing that was surprising was that there are ALICEs in every area, and I think that was surprising.”

By every area, she means no municipality was excluded. Nearly 1 million New Yorkers who work in retail sales, restaurants and home health services are paid below the ALICE threshold. Again, Hoopes.

“New York City has one of the best economies in the country right now but still we found 48 percent of jobs in the metro/New York City area pay less than $20 an hour. And most of those jobs are paying between $10 and $15 an hour. $15 an hour equals $30,000 a year, if it’s full time, but we know a lot of those jobs are part-time, are seasonal and that they vary from week to week and month to month,” Hoopes says. “So you still have your basic household necessities that you need to pay. Your rent stays the same every month but your income can vary and it’s a real challenge for so many families.”

Gabrielle Hill is a City of Newburgh resident and falls into the ALICE report threshold. She works at McDonald’s about 30 hours a week and has two daughters at home. One is 9, the other 19. And the 19-year-old has an 11-month-old baby.

“So my rent is approximately 75 percent of my income. So, with that, that leaves me with about $75 a week,” Hill says. “And I usually rotate the things that I need per week. So one week I’ll use the $75 towards laundry. My transportation is about $20 a week so actually that cuts me down to $55. One week I’ll use the $55 the week towards laundry. The next week I might use it towards cleaning supplies and household.”

Her rent is $850 month. Montano points to 39 percent of households in Dutchess County and 41 percent of households in Orange County struggling to afford basic needs. Each county is 29 percent ALICE. The numbers rise in the counties’ cities, with 64 percent of households in Poughkeepsie struggling, with 42 percent ALICE, and 68 percent struggling in Newburgh, with 34 percent ALICE.

“We’re looking at the child care gap, the housing gap, the transportation gap,” Montano says. “People may have a job but they can’t afford to get there if the bus routes don’t go that way or if they’re on a different shift, so there’s a lot of things that need to be looked into.”

Hill says access to affordable child care would help a lot, as would being paid for needed days off in a job without benefits.

“So there’s very little room for savings and there’s also very little wiggle room for missing work,” Hill says. “Most of us do not get paid if we miss work. So having a sick child is not an option. You getting sick yourself is not an option because one day can really throw you back.”

Throw you back financially, she explains. Hoopes says many stakeholders need to come to the table for solutions.

“I think one of the biggest points of this report is small band aids aren’t going to make a difference, that the kind of changes that need to happen are going to be big and they need to have input from all stakeholders,” says Hoopes.”So United Way alone is not going to solve this. We need government officials, we need community citizens, we need… companies need to be at the table. So there’s really a wide range of work that needs to be done.”

Hoopes says there are ALICE reports for some other states, including Connecticut, which shows similarities to New York. There was an ALICE report two years ago for Connecticut and an update this year.   

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