The United Way of Middlesex County just released its latest ALICE report, and it’s an eye-opener. ALICE stands for “Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed,” and, based on a statewide average, the acronym describes 30 percent of our neighbors. Add in those living below the poverty line and the figure jumps to 40 percent. What it boils down to is that a huge portion of working families can barely afford basic expenses for housing, food, utilities, child care, health care, and transportation.
How come? Forty-five percent of jobs in the state pay less than $20 per hour, with two-thirds of those paying $15 per hour or less. Someone fortunate enough to have a steady work schedule (eight hours per day, five days a week) and earning about $12/hour has annual take-home pay of a little over $24,000. According to the ALICE study, that is the bare minimum an individual needs to bring home just to afford the necessities.
When you look deeper, you see that the ALICE study assumes monthly rent of about $800. Good luck finding an apartment at that price when the average one-bedroom apartment in Connecticut costs over $1,040 a month (according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2018 Out of Reach report). The study also estimates a monthly food budget of $182. Good luck covering three meals a day at that rate ($2.20/meal), let alone having enough for fresh produce, meats or laundry detergent.
Utilities are not a separate budget line, so one assumes that it falls into the catch-all line of miscellaneous, at $187 per month. According to the New Haven Register, Connecticut’s most expensive energy source is electricity and the average resident pays $166 per month, second only to Hawaii. Plus, Connecticut ranks second in average heating oil expenses at $76 per month.
The monthly survival budget also allots $213 monthly for healthcare. Since coverage, premiums, and out-of-pocket costs vary widely, it’s hard to say what the average individual can expect to pay monthly. However, the National Center for Health Statistics says of those at 139 percent of the federal poverty level (essentially the ALICE population), 25 percent are having trouble paying medical bills and another 13 percent have bills they cannot pay at all.
It is very expensive to live in Connecticut and 40 percent of us are just squeaking by. Many families have tough choices each month – for example, whether to put food on the table or cover the rent. This puts them in a precarious position because just one unexpected expense could mean going hungry, being cold, or becoming homeless.
That’s why our foundation is working with our partners, including United Way, to make more affordable housing available, and to support education programs that enable lower-income families to move up the economic ladder. As we see it, prosperity for our ALICE neighbors is vital to the prosperity of our state as a whole.