ALICE PROJECT


ALICE 2020 Update and How COVID-19 May Impact ALICE Households

Who Is ALICE?

In 2018, 3,610,770 Florida households (46%) had income below the ALICE Threshold, meaning that they were unable to afford even the most basic budget. ALICE households, earning above the Federal Poverty Level, were not eligible for assistance. The large number of households struggling before the COVID-19 crisis helps explain why the dual impact of the current health crisis and economic disruption is so severe.

ALICE In Lee County

2018 Point-in-Time-Data

Population: 754,610

Number of Households: 281,222

Median Household Income: $56,129 (state average: $55,462)

Unemployment Rate: 4.4% (state average: 5.2%)

ALICE Households: 35.0% (state average: 33.0%)

Households in Poverty: 12.0% (state average: 13.0%)

  • The number of ALICE households will increase with the economic disruption caused by COVID-19.

o Rising unemployment, closed businesses, and halted production of many goods and services has already reduced the income of millions of families. The 14% of households that were on the cusp of the ALICE Threshold in 2018 are especially vulnerable.

o The number of households unable to afford household essentials had been growing over time before the pandemic began. The percentage of households below the ALICE Threshold increased from 33% in 2007 to 46% by 2018 (Figure 1 in the Report).

  • Inequalities are exacerbated by the pandemic. Households of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities, living in rural, urban, and suburban areas, are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But isolating in place is a luxury that many ALICE families cannot afford. Differences in income and savings determine who can stay home, buy protective gear, buy essential items in bulk, take time off work when sick, and access quality health care.

o ALICE families without savings and working hourly paid jobs are more likely to fall into debt and may not be able to protect themselves or afford treatment if they get sick.

o Groups that are disproportionately ALICE will be impacted even more severely. Many ALICE families have been skimping on basic essentials for years, from healthy food to routine health care. Along with the added stress of living paycheck to paycheck, these factors increase the risk for chronic health conditions, making ALICE even more vulnerable during a public health crisis. Initial reports are showing that groups that have underlying health conditions, face persistent discrimination in health care services, or live in areas with fewer support services (health care deserts and rural areas) make up a higher proportion of COVID-19 deaths.

  • Seniors are a high-risk group, in terms of both health and finances. In 2018, 1.3 million senior households (49%) in Florida had income below the ALICE Threshold. Due to age, underlying conditions, and often living in group quarters such as assisted living facilities or nursing homes, those over age 65 are more susceptible to getting and dying from COVID-19 than the general population. This increased vulnerability and the closing of senior centers, houses of worship, and other community organizations has heightened anxiety and isolation among the senior population. In addition, with the rapid decline in the stock market, many seniors’ income and resources will be drastically reduced. In addition, some supply chains have been disrupted impacting the availability of necessities such as generic medicine.

The Cost of Living in Florida

With reduced income, it will be even harder for ALICE families to afford the basics in the Household Survival Budget.  There are particular short-term concerns for each budget category. In addition, the broader costs of financial instability are cumulative and intensify over time.   The Household Survival Budget

o Housing: The cost and quality of housing are more important than ever now that we are being asked to reduce contact with the outside world. To afford housing, many ALICE families live in substandard units which raise health and safety concerns. Sheltering in place in tight quarters can increase the risk of infection with COVID-19 and can exacerbate mental illness or abuse. Financially, rent and mortgage freezes will provide important temporary relief, but those with lost income may never be able to catch-up once those freezes are lifted.

o Child care: In Florida, 55% of families with children had income below the ALICE Threshold in 2018, before the pandemic began. These families are especially vulnerable to the disruptions that accompany child care, school, and university closures. Essential workers with children rely on child care; with closures, they often have to put themselves and their children at greater risk. Closures also profoundly affect the child care industry, whose workers themselves are primarily ALICE. School closures mean that children lose their daily routine, including meals and socialization as well as education. For ALICE families without internet access or home computers, digital learning may leave their children behind.

o Food: Many ALICE households cannot afford to buy food in bulk and do not have a place to safely store large quantities, leading to more trips to the store and greater risk of exposure. Families who relied on meals at school, work, or adult day care will now have higher food costs.

o Transportation: Social-distancing orders have disrupted travel in many states. People are traveling less, but essential workers (many of whom are ALICE) still need to commute to their jobs, which can be riskier and more time-consuming with closures or reduced service on public transportation.

o Health care: The health care costs in the Survival Budget provide for bare-minimum insurance coverage, so contracting COVID-19 would pose a significant additional burden for many ALICE families due to both unforeseen medical bills and lost income. For workers who have insurance through their employer (the most common form of insurance in 2018), losing their job also means losing their health coverage. In addition, the extraordinary burden of COVID-19 on the health care system also means that there are fewer resources available for the treatment of chronic conditions and other non-COVID-19-related health issues.

o Technology: From remote work and distance learning to telemedicine and social connectivity, the critical importance of access to high-speed internet has been revealed by this crisis – as has the persistent “digital divide” by income. In Florida, 27% of households with income below the ALICE Threshold did not have an internet subscription in 2018, compared with only 8% for households above the ALICE Threshold. With less access to the internet and to computers, ALICE workers will have difficulty working from home even if offered the option. This can include teachers asked to teach online during school closures.

o Savings: In 2017, only 51% of Florida households had set aside any money in the prior 12 months that could be used for unexpected expenses or emergencies such as illness or the loss of a job — realities that many households are now facing.

 ALICE Jobs: Maintaining the Economy

o #EssentialALICE: The pandemic had shown that many ALICE workers are essential, frontline employees. It has become exceedingly clear that we need ALICE to keep the economy running and to keep us all safe and healthy.

o No safety net = no choice but to work: To avoid losing their jobs, ALICE workers may feel pressured to go to work even if sick, which could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

o School and college closures: Closures impact ALICE workers disproportionately. Many education workers are ALICE — including child care workers and school and college support staff — and they are paid hourly, often without benefits. As adults, these school workers are more susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19 than are children and teens. And as education institutions close, these workers lose wages and struggle to support their own children.

o Digital/technical skills: Technological ability (especially related to remote work) is becoming more important in the pandemic economy; workers and businesses who can quickly adapt are more likely to withstand this crisis.

Hourly and Gig Workers  

o Increased worker vulnerability: More than half of workers in Florida are paid hourly. Even in the best of times, these workers are more likely to have fluctuations in income, with frequent schedule changes and variation in the number of hours available for work each week or month.

o Basic employee protections: Many ALICE workers do not have employee protections — such as annual salary, adequate health care coverage, paid time off, family leave, workers compensation, or retirement benefits — that would help them financially withstand the COVID-19 crisis.

o Side hustles: In 2019, nearly half (45%) of working adults reported having a side gig outside of their primary job. Many of these opportunities have disappeared with social distancing, and most were not covered by unemployment insurance. With an increase in the number of people out of work, there will be more competition on internet job platforms, making it harder for gig workers to find and maintain earnings.

o Small businesses: Small businesses employ almost half of the workforce in Florida. But with tight margins, many are not able to withstand even short periods of closure. Large numbers are laying off or furloughing their workers, and many may not be able to restart once state economies reopen.

o ALICE college students: College closures disproportionately impact ALICE students. Many of these students work and are still food insecure; those without access to housing or their meal plan will be further exposed. Potential delays in education credentials will add to and prolong student debt and further push out better employment options. And high unemployment will make it difficult for new graduates to find stable work with good pay.

To download the full ALICE Report click here 

For more information on the ALICE Report visit www.UnitedWayALICE.org