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Letter to the Editor: #MeetTXALICE

#MeetTXALICE: Nearly half the households in Texas are struggling to afford basic necessities according to the Texas ALICE Report that was recently released. For the area served by United Way of Greater Baytown Area and Chambers County, struggling households are easily found in Chambers County with 40% of the population and 43% of the greater Baytown area population. ALICE is an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It does not represent one demographic group, because ALICE is found in every neighborhood.

In partnership with the United Ways of Texas,  United Way of Greater Baytown Area and Chambers County released the Texas ALICE Report, which tracks struggling Texas households before and after the Great Recession (2007 and 2010) and then during the recovery through 2016. Economic activity and financial hardship in the state have been uneven. The report can be found on United Way’s website at http://www.unitedwaygbacc.org/do-you-know-alice.

The Federal Poverty Line (FPL) is an outdated calculation and no longer provides accurate information about the number of people facing hardship across the country. Using the best available information on those who are struggling, the Texas ALICE Report offers an enhanced set of tools for stakeholders to measure the real challenges ALICE households face in trying to make ends meet. The ALICE Project develops these resources in order to move beyond stereotypes and judgments of “the poor,” and instead encourages the use of data to inform programmatic and policy solutions for those households and their communities.

As per the update, 42 percent of households struggle to afford the basic necessities and live below the ALICE Threshold — 28 percent of Texas households are ALICE and 14 percent live in poverty. These percentages translate to 4,025,176 households in Texas struggling to make ends meet. Our local data show that 26 percent of Chambers County households are ALICE and 11 percent live in poverty; 28 percent of those in the greater Baytown area are ALICE and 15% are living in poverty. Combined, this region has a high level of households struggling to get by. They are making risky choices in order to provide the bare necessities for themselves. These choices could be anything from skipping meals to not filling needed prescriptions.

The average Household Survival Budget (calculation created for the ALICE Report) for a Texas family of four is $52,956— more than double the U.S. Federal Poverty Level for a family of four, $24,300. Unlike the FPL, the Household Survival Budget considers a region’s cost of housing, child care, food, transportation and health care at a bare-minimum “survival” level. It does not include any savings, leaving households without a cushion for unexpected expenses and unable to invest in the future. For a single adult living in Texas, the Household Survival Budget minimum is $19,428, also significantly above the FPL of $11,880 for a single adult. Imagine what happens when someone is sick or their car needs to be repaired causing them to miss work and therefore lose that income.

It’s time we all face the reality that families and individuals are struggling to survive. Many who fall into the ALICE definition take on multiple jobs that do not leave time or energy for anything else. The average Household Survival Budget (calculation created for the ALICE Report) for a family of four in Harris County and Chambers County is $61,404  — more than double the U.S. Federal Poverty Level for a family of four, $24,300. Unlike the FPL, the Household Survival Budget considers a region’s cost of housing, child care, food, transportation and health care at a bare-minimum “survival” level. It does not include any savings, leaving households without a cushion for unexpected expenses and unable to invest in the future. For a single adult living in Texas, the Household Survival Budget minimum is $19,428, also significantly above the FPL of $11,880 for a single adult. Child care represents a Texas family’s greatest expense.

Our region is not alone. Many of Texas’s largest cities, Houston (50 percent), Dallas (50 percent) and San Antonio (55 percent) and El Paso (53 percent), each have more than 50 percent of households living below the ALICE Threshold. Other major cities in Texas also have a significant percentage of households struggling to make ends meet — Austin (36 percent), Fort Worth (49 percent), Arlington (51 percent) and Corpus Christi (42 percent).

The ALICE data provides information for various family types for all 254 counties, including married couples, single adults with one child, and two adults with two school-aged children, etc. For all ALICE data, including data on the surrounding counties, you can visit our website at http://www.unitedwaygbacc.org/do-you-know-alice.

United Way of Greater Baytown Area and Chambers County supports many programs that impact the community and especially those who fit the ALICE definition.   Not one person, one organization, or one nonprofit can provide the solution to community issues affecting all of us. We encourage other nonprofits, service groups, individuals and government entities to dig into the ALICE data to look for ways to better serve this population in our region.

Melissa Reabold, MBA, CFRE

CEO, United Way of Greater Baytown Area & Chambers County

February 2019