ALICE: Financial Hardship, and Struggling to Make Ends Meet

Who is ALICE?

Throughout West Michigan, as with the rest of the country, there are many families who have trouble covering all their expenses, despite having one or both householders working. Although they may be above the federally-established poverty line, these families are still struggling to get by.

These are families who are considered ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed. This is a term first introduced by the United Way in 2009, working with a team in New Jersey to more accurately measure those families who were working, but still struggling to cover their expenses. Since then, fourteen states have adopted the ALICE methodology to measure their populations using U.S. Census Bureau data. 

Using this data, the ALICE project is able to create Survival and Sustainable budgets for households of specific sizes and structures, and tailor those budgets to the cost of living by geographies as small as counties, cities, and townships. In doing this, ALICE can give us a picture of the Economic Viability of an area, including Housing Affordability, Job Opportunities, and Community Support. 

What does the data tell us?

In Michigan, the last ALICE report was released with data reflecting 2012, and showed that statewide, 40 percent of Michigan households fall below the Survival Budget Threshold. This means that four in ten Michigan households cannot afford either rent, food, clothing, or any of the other basic survival categories. In the Talent 2025 West Michigan region, this number varies slightly, with just below 39 percent of households falling short of a Survival budget.

What can employers do?

This is a population with many barriers to holding sustained, middle-class employment, and much can be done to help ensure that no household is without the resources they need to get by. 

Several employers in West Michigan are taking innovative approaches to help create a sustainable employment environment for their employees. At Fifth Third Bank, there is a strong culture of giving employees opportunity for upward mobility, such as hosting financial empowerment classes which are focused to help employees reach their financial goals; whether that be a new house, college saving for children or additional security for their family. The classes teach fundamental skills that may be helpful in the employee’s next role. The bank feels these classes have assisted with attracting, developing, and retaining talent. 

At ADAC Automotive in Muskegon, Michigan, an onsite employee assistance company helps associates understand the social programs they may be eligible for, as well as providing employees with financial planning and legal services. Additionally, ADAC Automotive is working to alleviate several barriers to sustained employment. Terry Leberfinger, VP of Human Resources, says “We are currently looking at ways to improve the availability of transportation by working with the city of Muskegon in order to get buses routed through the industrial park where all three of our Muskegon locations are located.” Additionally, ADAC is working to provide employees with affordable access to childcare relatively close to their locations.

Want to do more?

Learn more about the United Way ALICE Project by reading the Michigan ALICE report.

You can also take action by joining our Workforce Development Working Group.

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