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Households with hardships coming into focus

What happens when people work hard but still struggle to make ends meet? Many families have to make the difficult choices about what to pay for and what to forgo. These choices are daunting, and they have both immediate and long-term consequences for low-income households and their communities.

United Ways are working to call attention to families facing hardship – ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). The ALICE household survival budget is a barebones budget that covers just the essentials – food, housing, child care, transportation, and health care. The most recent ALICE Report revealed that 38% of Connecticut households are unable to afford this frugal budget.

A new report has been released called The Consequences of Insufficient Household Income, and it helps tell the ALICE story. It invites you to walk in ALICE’s shoes to understand the struggle of thousands of your friends, neighbors, and family members. Potential strategies and consequent outcomes are noted for when a household cannot afford basic housing, child care, enough nutritious food, and the other essential needs.

For example in housing, 50% of renters in Connecticut and 32% of homeowners are considered housing burdened which means they spend 30% or more of their income on housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that in order to afford a modest 2-bedroom apartment in this state, a household must earn $24.72 per hour. Yet 49% of jobs in Connecticut pay less than $20 per hour.

When a household decides to pay more for housing than their budget allows, this can lead to less money being available for other basic needs, less money for savings and/or emergency expenses, and the potential for more evictions and foreclosures. However, if their strategy is to pay less for substandard housing, they may have higher maintenance costs and may experience mental or behavioral health issues due to exposure to toxins. Yet another strategy notes that if a household rents or buys in a less desirable location which is less expensive, they may have increased transportation costs, a longer commute to work, and see a concentrated financial hardship in neighborhoods.

Public transportation in Connecticut is limited, making it almost essential for a household to have a car. Less than 5% of workers reported using public transportation to get to work in 2015. Using public transportation could mean a longer commute and limited access to job opportunities or less access to suburban and rural jobs.

But if a household does decide to forgo other expenses to own a reliable car, there will be less money for other basic needs and expenses including emergencies and savings. If a household goes in the other direction and minimizes car expenses, this could mean a disruption of work schedules if the car breaks down, limited school choice when there is no family vehicle, and limited food choice if there is no large grocery store within walking distance or on a bus route.

The new report describes the different strategies that ALICE families face and the ripple effect of these choices. The consequences of insufficient income are not isolated to ALICE households. ALICE workers are an integral part of our communities and essential to the vitality of our state. In fact, we each come into contact with ALICE every day as they are the people caring for our children and aging parents, fixing our cars, and working at restaurants, coffee shops, grocery and retail stores.

To read the full report, visit alice.ctunitedway.org. You are also invited to take a walk in ALICE’s shoes using an online simulator to see if you could survive 30 days on the ALICE household survival budget. Go to www.MakingToughChoices.org.