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Who is ALICE? In Centre County, 43% struggle to afford basic needs, report says

In Centre County, 27% of households earn enough to sit above the federal poverty level but still cannot afford essentials like housing, food, transportation and child care. This percentage is 3% higher than the Pennsylvania average.

That’s according to the Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed report released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania United Way. The ALICE report shows 1.8 million households in Pennsylvania are struggling to survive, a statistic calculated by adding the number of homes that live below the federal poverty line.

On Tuesday, United Way announced the launch of the ALICE Project at a press conference in Harrisburg. With the ALICE Project, United Way will be better quipped to calculate and understand needs of communities throughout the state.

Pennsylvania United Way President Kristen Rotz said United Way will be advocating at the state level to create policy changes that support ALICE and pave a path to financial stability.

“This includes a broader look at workforce development-related issues such as access to affordable child care or reliable transportation options,” Rotz said. “We will also be supporting our local United Ways with a learning community to help them with local strategies which support ALICE.”

If an individual earns more than the federal poverty level, they could be ineligible for services that are still outside of their budget. This population creates the ALICE threshold.

“These are singles, families with children, single-parent families and seniors,” said Megan Evans, Centre County United Way communications coordinator. “It is important for everyone to understand the barriers that exist for our neighbors who are working hard every day, but aren’t able to make ends meet.”

When the number of people living below the federal poverty level is combined with ALICE, the result is 43% of the Centre County population is struggling to afford basic needs.

In the ALICE report, data for Centre County contains statistics collected from 2010 to 2017. In 2010, the total number of households reached 56,358. By 2017, the number totaled at 58,629 ALICE households.

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Households by income data from 2010 to 2017 for Centre County included in the ALICE report. Photo provided

In the report, this rise is connected to the increasing cost of living. In 2017, costs were well above the federal poverty level of $12,060 for a single adult and $24,600 for a family of four. Over the course of seven years, family costs increased by 22% across the state.

Housing Transitions Executive Director Morgan Wasikonis said most of the people they serve are ALICE. The majority of the population living in their homeless shelter, Wasikonis said, are employed; however, they are working minimum wage jobs that “don’t quite cut it for them to maintain housing on their own.”

In Centre County, ALICE are people who are living paycheck to paycheck and need subsidies on their housing, Wasikonis said. At Housing Transitions, the goal is to have those who use its services to spend no more than 30% of their income on housing.

Evans said this issue is bigger than having proper job skills, training and education. It is also about having access to child care, transportation and health care — necessities that might not be easily accessible for everyone.

Those who fall into the ALICE population have to make “impossible choices” like deciding between buying groceries, paying the rent, filling a prescription or fixing the car.

“These short-term decisions have long-term consequences not only for ALICE families, but for all of us,” reports United Way.

Evans said ALICE is essential to the economy and impact the overall health of their communities.

“ALICE is in every community, county and state,” Evans said. “It is important for everyone to understand the barriers that exist for our neighbors who are working hard everyday but aren’t able to make ends meet. Everyone is impacted when ALICE can’t make ends meet.”

She hopes the Centre County community can “live united” to provide ALICE an opportunity to gain financial stability and achieve their dreams.

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