Study: 4 in 10 Mid-Valley households struggle for basics

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Study: 4 in 10 Mid-Valley households struggle for basics

9:41 p.m. PST January 18, 2016

About 41 percent of households in the Mid-Willamette Valley are unable to afford the area’s cost of living, according to a report released Monday by United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley.

The ALICE report (standing for “asset-limited, income-constrained, employed”) is a study of financial hardship that shines light on the large population of hardworking residents who, despite being employed, struggle to afford the basics of housing, health care, child care, food and transportation.

“We all know ALICE,” said Randall Franke, chief executive officer of United Way Chief Executive Officer, in a prepared statement. “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. ALICE is your neighbor, your child care provider, the technician who draws your blood, the nursing assistant that cares for your aging parent.

“These folks are vital to our community’s economic well-being, and they face barriers to financial stability that are beyond their control.”

A total of 46,909 households in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties fall into what United Way calls the “ALICE population,” according to a recent news release. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living.

This number is nearly double the official poverty rate, which accounts for 27,283 households in the same three-county region, according to the release. Combined, ALICE and poverty households account for 41 percent of all households in Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties.

United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley has joined a grassroots movement of some 250 United Way groups in 10 states to use the same methodology for documenting financial need, building on a United Way study first developed in New Jersey, according to the release.

The ALICE Report provides county-by-county and city-level data, and analysis of how many households are struggling and explores the obstacles these households face on the road to financial independence.

United Way officials said the ALICE Report is the most “comprehensive depiction of financial need in the state to date, using the latest data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census.” The report uses new measures, based on income levels and expenses, that quantify the size of the workforce that is struggling financially, and why.

“This report provides the objective data that explains why so many residents are struggling to survive and the challenges they face in attempting to make ends meet,” said Stephanie Hoopes, the report’s lead researcher, in a prepared statement. Hoopes is also the ALICE project national director.

“Until now, the true picture of need in local communities and states has been understated and obscured by misleading averages and outdated poverty statistics,” she said.

According to the report:

  • The ALICE population includes men and women, young and old, of all races, closely mirroring the state’s basic demographic make-up.
  • In the three-county region, 40 percent are within their prime wage-earning years of 45 to 64 years old.
  • 50 percent of homeowners and renters in the region are “cost burdened”, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
  • 33 cities in the Mid-Willamette Valley have at least 30 percent of their households unable to make ends meet.
  • In 11 of those cities, that number rises to above 50 percent.
  • In the region, the annual income needed to afford the basic necessities ranges from $51,360 to $54,324 for a family of four. This is more than double the official U.S. poverty rate.
  • Despite the combination of ALICE’s wages and some public assistance, ALICE households still face a significant income gap in order to reach financial stability.

“ALICE often is forced to make choices that compromise health and safety in order to make ends meet, putting both ALICE and the wider community at risk of long-term societal and economic repercussions,” Franke said. “When ALICE chooses unlicensed child care, longer commutes or emergency room health care in order to put food on the table we all suffer the consequences with future costs to our education system, heavier traffic and higher premiums.”

United Way officials said they are working collectively in the region to provide long-term solutions that will strengthen our communities and that they are focused on providing the basic foundation in the areas of education, financial stability and health to help improve the lives of both ALICE and those in poverty.

To read the full ALICE Report visit www.unitedwaymwv.org/meet-alice.

For more information contact Randall Franke at (503) 559-0872, or (503) 363-1651, Ext. 305 or visit www.unitedwaymwv.org.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or http://www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

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