Go Ask ALICE

What is it like to live just above minimum wage?  The ALICE know.  ALICE refers to persons who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, yet Employed.  Others have referred to them as the working poor. The ALICE are our friends, neighbors and co-workers. They are the segment of the population just trying every day to get ahead in a just-getting-by world.

The United Way is credited with creating the term ALICE. They were able to name a growing group of the struggling populace. This is a group of hard workers who just can’t seem to get ahead financially, can’t catch a break. United Way of St. Lucie County recently held an event to showcase the most recent ALICE report and highlight what this means in our community.  Jessica Parish, Community Outreach Coordinator, did a great job breaking it down for us, but it was still tough to hear.  We have a little higher percentage of ALICE households in St. Lucie County than the state average of 32% and that population is growing. The outlook is not bleak however it isn’t moving in a positive direction.

As an Extension professional who works closely with the ALICE population, I can tell you these are a hardworking bunch of people.  In St. Lucie County, the number of households considered ALICE status increased 3% between 2014 and 2016, the same percentage drop as the number of households above the ALICE threshold. That is about 40,000 homes out of over 110,000 total. This shows that families are struggling to maintain a middle-class standard of living. The poverty level remained consistent over the same period of time. Those most affected by these conditions are single or co-habitating adults and seniors 65 and older.

So, if you are wondering why so many households are struggling to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, consider that the cost of living continues to increase while wages have lagged behind.  In Florida, costs for household items (housing, transportation, food, health care, etc.) increased by 15% from 2010 to 2016. The same costs rose an average of 9% nationally for the same time period.

Families in Florida are trying to do more with less – a task that is more difficult without basic financial education. Knowing how to navigate the banking system and avoid fees is a valuable skill. Understanding how the use of credit impacts your auto insurance premium can save someone tons of money. Learning consumer skills like how to compare prices and analyze advertising can help too.  Your local Extension office can help with some of those tools.  Give us a call or search for a specific topic at our great information site. If you really want to know about the struggles of low income families, go ask ALICE.