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Report Shines Light On Growing Number Of Struggling Households

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Despite an overall improvement in employment and gains in median household income, the economic recovery in New York state has been uneven. That’s according to a new report detailing how a large number of New York households cannot afford basic necessities.

The 2018 ALICE report says 3.2 million New York households, or 45 percent of the overall population, lack the income and resources to pay for housing, food, child care, transportation and health care. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The report from United Way of New York State follows the first one released in 2016. Data is from two years prior. Stephanie Hoopes is lead researcher on the ALICE project, and with United Way of Northern New Jersey.

“835,000 families with children have income below the ALICE threshold,” Hoopes says.

She says that from 2010 to 2016, during economic recovery, ALICE households increased in New York — 12 percent for single adult households, and 22 percent for family-of-four households. The report finds that ALICE households are not benefitting financially from seemingly positive economic trends. While there has been significant job growth in some areas, such as home health aides and teachers’ aides, a number of these occupations continue to pay wages that are insufficient to support a basic household survival budget.

“So the number one occupation in New York is a retail salesperson, over 320,000 retail sales jobs, and yet the hourly median wage is $10.73,” Hoopes says. “That wage has increased slightly from 2010-2016, 2 percent, but you can see that that’s not nearly enough, the same increase that we saw for even those basic items in the household survival budget.”

She adds:

“I’d really like to point out the increase in those below the ALICE threshold that are age 25-to-64 years. Those are really your prime workings years,” says Hoopes. “And, with this increased employment opportunities, it is a little surprising to see the number of households in these age groups increasing.”

In New York, half of jobs pay less than $20 an hour, with the majority of these paying between $10 and $15 an hour, which Hoopes says is not enough for a survival budget. Emily Darrow is with United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region.

“We really need to be, first of all, aware of this because this is a silent population. We see people who are living in poverty, we know that, but this is a population that usually doesn’t say very much. They just are going about their jobs and trying to do the best that they can,” Darrow says. “This year, United Way is shining a light on them. Our whole campaign this year is centered around ALICE.”

Plus she says:

“So for Dutchess, it’s interesting, because there is a slight decline. There’s many reasons for this, and one of which you might even not think about but a lot of millennials are going back home to live with their parents,” Darrow says. “So they’re not establishing separate households as they would have done earlier. This has become a real trend.”

She says the same holds true for Orange County. To meet the ALICE threshold for survival, a four-person household consisting of two adults, one infant, and one preschooler, needs an annual income of nearly $69,000, or $34.40 per hour. An individual needs an annual income of just more than $23,000, or $11.57 per hour. John Bernardi is CEO of United Way of the Adirondack Region.

“What we see now is a growing demographic of people that are working really hard, sometimes two and three jobs, that’s struggling to make ends meet and living on the edge of that financial cliff every day,” Bernardi says.

Hoopes says New York has the ninth-highest percentage of households with incomes below the ALICE threshold. New Mexico has the highest and North Dakota, the lowest.

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