A United Way report shows that more than 4 out of 10 Ulster County households are unable to afford basic necessities, including food, housing and child care.
That figure includes both households below the poverty line and those not in poverty who still struggle to make ends meet. The latter group is the report’s focus, and a description of their situation provides its name: ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
“It will be one thing that happens, and then that has a domino effect on how they’re able to meet their financial needs, things like electricity and heat, fuel oil and medicine,” said Ulster County United Way President and CEO Stacey Rein.
In Ulster County, 41 percent of households are struggling: 11 percent in poverty, and 30 percent ALICE. For the latter group, the report details a situation in which the cost of living is outpacing wages. Rein said a separate study found 70 percent of the people United Way was helping were gainfully employed. The results surprised her. “This circumstance is kind of new – that there would be working people being evicted or having their electricity turned off,” she said.
The report focuses on a group of people whose situation isn’t apparent in the main economic indicators. The unemployment rate continues to decline, but these folks are working. The stock market keeps rising, but that’s a reflection of corporate earnings, which don’t necessarily result in the creation of a large number of middle-class jobs. “For ALICE, finding well-paying jobs with security and financial stability is becoming harder as low-wage and gig-economy jobs continue to dominate the landscape,” said the report. “Fluctuating income — through unpredictable schedules and on-demand work — is one of the biggest problems ALICE workers face.”
ALICE jobs include many in retail, human services, hospitality, restaurant service and clerical positions.
The highest rates of poverty/ALICE households are found in the city of Kingston (58 percent), Denning (55 percent), Shandaken and Wawarsing (both 53 percent); the lowest in Shawangunk (30 percent), Esopus (32 percent) and Hurley (34 percent).
Rates also vary by ethnicity and marital status. The poverty/ALICE rate for black and hispanic households are both over 60 percent, while for white households, the rate is less than 40 percent. For households with children, the poverty/ALICE rate for households headed by a married couple is 25 percent (with just 3 percent in poverty). For single-parent households, the rate is 83 percent for single-mothers and 70 percent for single-fathers.
The federal income threshold for poverty in 2016 was $11,880 for an individual and $24,300 for a family of four. Households below the poverty line qualify for many benefits that ALICE households may not, including SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and home energy assistance.
Unlike the poverty line, the ALICE framework takes into account the cost of living for an area, and assumes that wages need to meet the full cost of expenses. The report uses federal data to estimate the cost of necessities and makes adjustments for local cost of living. In Ulster County, the minimum income level needed to exceed the ALICE threshold is an hourly wage of $12.05 or $24,108 per year for an individual. For a family of four (two adults, one infant, one preschooler), those numbers jump to an hourly wage of $39.96 (combined) or $79,920 per year.
Here are the numbers, broken down by category and by household type.
The report also gives numbers for what it considers a “stability budget”- which “reflects the cost for household necessities at a modest but sustainable level and accounts for savings.” Here are the numbers for Ulster:
The report is based on 2016 economic data. In Ulster, the number of poverty/ALICE households fell by four points over the previous report two years ago (45 to 41 percent), while the statewide number increased by one point (44 to 45 percent).
The main goal of the report is bring attention to the plight of the working poor who don’t qualify for safety net programs. “This is 30 percent of our population that really could use just a little bit more assistance,” said Rein.