The phrase “working poor” can elicit images of someone who is severely under-employed and living at the federal poverty line. But a new report released by United Way says not only is that picture inaccurate, the phrase “working poor” is inaccurate.
Developed by Rutgers University, the report calls attention to a population it refers to as ALICE, an acronym for ASSET LIMITED, INCOME CONSTRAINED, EMPLOYED. Set aside the jargon, and what’s being talked about are workers, some with families, who earn either just enough to get by, or are not quite making ends meet. These are everyday people who hold jobs as hospitality workers, daycare teachers, landscapers and so on. Their incomes simply don’t meet the cost of living.
“We all know ALICE,” says Heart of Florida United Way President and CEO Robert H. (Bob) Brown. “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 future economic well-being, and they face barriers beyond their control frustrating their ability to become financially stable.”
More than 203,000 tri-county households fall into what United Way calls the ALICE population. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living. This is more than double those considered in poverty by federal standards, which accounts for over 101,000 households in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. Combined, ALICE and poverty households, account for about half of all households in Central Florida.
According to the United Way ALICE report, 45 percent of Florida households are struggling to afford food, housing, childcare and transportation. However, a closer look at local numbers tells an even stronger story of hardship.
• Nearly 50% of Central Florida families do not earn enough to consistently cover the basic living expenses highlighted by the ALICE Threshold.
• 69% of all jobs in FL pay less than $20 an hour and most pay between $10 and $15 an hour. The jobs forecast shows that low-skill and low-paying jobs will dominate Florida’s future if the economy continues on its current trajectory.
• Of the ALICE population in Osceola County, 47% are homeowners and 1/3 of homeowners are cost burdened (pay more than 35% of their income on their mortgage). Likewise, in Orange County 39% of the ALICE population owns homes, with 29% cost burdened; and in Seminole County 34% own with 27% cash burdened.
• A significant majority of households below the ALICE threshold rent (69% Orange County, 62% Seminole County, 71% Osceola County). Approximately half of all renters are cost burdened (pay more than 35% of their income on their rent).
• Central Florida needs more than 95,000 affordable rental units to meet the current demand for affordable homes, with more than 65,000 of those needed in Orange County.
• Florida became less affordable from 2007 to 2012. Despite the Great Recession the cost of basic housing, child care, transportation, food and healthcare increased by 13%.
• Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties all rank in the bottom 1/3 of counties in Florida for overall housing affordability, with Orange County being the 4th worst in the state.
• Orange, Seminole and Osceola all rank in the top 1/3 of counties in Florida for job creation.
This is a population that United Way has been serving for over 75 years, but this new report sharpens the focus on the overall economic health of our community, which could ultimately lead to improvements for ALICE. Awareness can bring business and community leaders together to find workable solutions to affordable housing, affordable childcare, affordable healthcare and access to transportation that can help bring incomes more in line with the cost of living.
United Ways in six states commissioned Rutgers University-Newark, School of Public Affairs and Administration to conduct the ALICE research. The report was funded by grants from AT&T, Atlantic Health System, Deloitte, FamilyWize, Novartis, Post Foods, and The UPS Foundation.