Report: Almost half of Ulster County households are broke

A report commissioned by the United Way shows that 45 percent of Ulster County households are living in precarious financial straits — either below the federal poverty line, or not making enough to pay for basic needs like food, housing and child care.

The study is titled ALICE for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” a designation that describes working families struggling to get by on low-wage jobs, but who have household incomes too high to qualify for many government assistance programs. Ulster County United Way President and CEO Stacey Rein said that the study was part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the plight of ALICE families who walk a kind of fiscal tightrope where minor financial setbacks can spiral into crushing debt or homelessness.

“These are families where if one thing goes wrong, something as simple as a blown tire, it becomes a crisis for the whole family,” said Rein.


The report focuses on families and individuals caught in the gap between the federal poverty level and the actual cost of living in New York State and Ulster County. The poverty line, where families can qualify for programs like temporary cash assistance and housing subsidies, is $11,670 a year for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four. Meanwhile the “household survival budget” in Ulster County, as calculated by the ALICE report adds up to $22,032 for a single individual and $71,592 for a family of two adults, one infant and one preschooler.

The report notes that the estimated “survival budget” is a bare-minimum standard, allowing for a “very modest” standard of living with no ability to save money or cope with unexpected loss of income or household expenses. By the report’s accounting, some 33 percent of Ulster County households fall into the ALICE category while another 12 percent are below the federal poverty line.


Hard times all around

A geographic breakdown of poor and ALICE households shows that many Ulster County communities rarely thought of as poor have significant numbers of economically struggling families. While the City of Kingston, home to some of the Ulster County’s poorest census tracts and a recipient of federal entitlement money for anti-poverty programs, has a combined poverty/ALICE rate of 61 percent, the rate in Shandaken and Saugerties is 56 percent. Woodstock, one of the county’s wealthier towns, shows a poverty/ALICE rate of 40 percent.

Rein said Ulster County’s ALICE population included many single mothers and two-parent households where both adults worked in low-wage jobs in retail, food service and office administrative jobs. In the wake of the Great Recession where those jobs have increasingly replaced long-gone better-paying ones, the rate of households living in ALICE conditions has increased, despite an overall economic recovery. In 2007, before the Great Recession, 41 percent of New York households were below the ALICE threshold. By 2014 that number had increased to 44 percent. The report notes that low-skilled, low-wage jobs are projected to rise in the coming decade relative to higher-paid ones, leaving more and more families below the ALICE threshold.

For non-profit groups like the United Way, which provide aid to many families who don’t qualify for government help, this means increasing caseloads. Rein said that she hoped the report would highlight the pressing need for community-based groups like the United Way and other nonprofits.

“I feel like [the ALICE report] is airing the dirty laundry,” said Rein. “That there are families out there who are working hard but are in financial distress on a daily basis. We get the calls every day, they’re crying, they’re panicked, they’re desperate.”

There are 7 comments

  1. Frank Sheeran

    Although they are all admirable goals, maybe the County Executive should move some of the focus from receiving awards and recognition for environmental achievements, Rail Trails, Veterans memorials, and other non life sustaining programs to jobs, jobs and more jobs? It seems the Executive is either trying to distract the residents from the cold reality of poverty that is battering most of Ulster County residents or he is purposely ignoring it. Either way, he should be taking on this tragedy head on and full time. Instead we get fluff and political retribution on a daily basis.

  2. Ann M.

    It’s no surprise. The official “poverty level” is not something anyone can survive on at all. The ALICE suggestion for a single person is still too low, with rents being what they are and most not including heat and other utilties. It should be more like $30,000. For a family of four, the ALICE level sounds high. At least, I know many families of four who are surviving on a lot less, and yes, at least half of the people I know are subject to financial ruin if they need a significant car repair, or they become dependent on friends and family to drive them to work, etc. It’s even worse if they face a health crisis. Not only that, but if you look only at people of working age, you’ll see an even greater percentage living on the edge. Many older folks in the county are retired on comfortable pensions which don’t exist for people of working age today. When today’s workers reach old age, they will be utterly destitute, dependent on minuscule Social Security payments that reflect their lifelong low earnings. The crisis will only worsen.

  3. Emiliano Zapata

    Land reform is required in order to generate revenue. That is because mistakenly folks think first of the other three elements of capitalism (i.e. jobs). Therefore, it’s time for Gulnick and that other guy in Taxation and Real Property to step forward.

  4. Mel M

    Over the last 8 years there has been too much government corruption, redistribution of the County’s Executive power giving $$$ hand-outs “carelessly” to selective insider groups under guises. Like take for example the Million Dollar Club economic revitalization funds in the little town of Ellenville. We saw big bucks come and goooooooooooo …yet no accountability, results, growth and the businesses who were in the $$$ receiving mix reaped no long term benefit. The citizens of Ellenville can not appreciate/realize where the money went. There were no jobs created, no infrastructure improvement, no revitalization, etc….the million dollars went up like smoke into thin air! When certain watch groups asked for a basic reconciliation of the fund distribution…..our easily distracted CE ignored our questions, emails and phone calls! Transparency is not our the local politicians attributes. Perhaps now with hope on the horizon and new thoughts in our country’s leadership…the boys club will be a bit more concerned.

    1. Johnso

      Dissolve the village municipality. Not required to exist. Call in an independant auditor not an elected state attorney general to investigate

      Auerbach used to work for the ellenville village anyways. Think he’s going to do his job when he got pension coming. Call the U.S. department of justice and they won’t do anything either

      The U.S. census bureau only cares about whovotes and the IRS is out to lunch.

  5. Bill Bannan

    There’s been way too much focus by the CE and local potentates on the tourism & hospitality sectors, which only offer the kind of low wage service sector jobs this article makes reference to. Every public official who has been tasked with promoting the local economy of Ulster County over the last 20 years should hang their head in shame over the sorry state of “Tech City”.

  6. Fred

    Perhaps if a few thousand laws, rules , and regulations were eliminated, they might attract some evil rich republican missoginists, you know, the people who make jobs by investing in what people want, not what the government decrees.

    Or is it better to have worthless politicians stay in power over a declining society nearing total collapse?

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