Employed by a large Baltimore City hospital, Victoria worked her way up through the ranks, starting as a volunteer, then as a $12-an-hour temp and now a full-time administrative coordinator. “I received steady pay increases with each job,” she says. “and I’m happy to be in a position and a place where I can grow and learn.” But her latest increase meant that Victoria and her family were no longer eligible for subsidized daycare, food stamps and other assistance programs. “Even though I’m making more, my expenses are higher now—and I have less money to work with.”
Victoria suddenly could identify as ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The acronym comes from a report released early this year by United Way that reveals one in three Marylanders cannot afford the state’s high cost of living and 45 percent of Baltimore City households live paycheck to paycheck, with no safety net.
Before her current job, Victoria’s household was already in a precarious position. And when an extended illness resulted in disability payments that greatly reduced her income, her bills fell further and further behind. “In less than a year, I lost everything: my house, my family, my significant other, my car. I ended up living in a shelter with my boys.”
A call to the 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline secured her housing, and Victoria enrolled in a United Way Family Stability program located on the east side of Baltimore City – the site is one of 12 operated by United Way throughout central Maryland. It took her a year, but Victoria has finally been able to piece her life back together.
“At one point in my life, I had three jobs. But when I got sick, I had no choice but to accept government assistance. I didn’t want to do it. It was a humbling experience and it shut down my pride.”
While she’s now back to work in a new, higher paying position, the loss of benefits “completely changed the dynamic.” Her rent, even adjusted for her income, is $940, and daycare and aftercare for her sons, ages two and seven, costs almost as much: $920 each month. The family doesn’t eat out, nor are her children enrolled in any lessons, sports or activities that require a payment. “I want to do things for the kids, sign them up for activities, but the money just isn’t there for that. And I’ve learned to shop differently. I bring a list and buy cheaper brands.”
Victoria decided to share her story because, she says, people need to know the struggle is real.” No one wants to acknowledge this—that people are working and struggling really hard and still not making it. You don’t want to know what it feels like wondering how you’re going to feed your kids, or to be told your utilities are being cut off to get an eviction notice. This is hard and not the life I want for myself or my sons.
Victoria is committed to a better life for her and her family. She takes classes in Human Services Administration with the goal of advancing her career and is in enrolled in budgeting and financial planning programs. Her goals include buying a car and paying in full so she won’t have a car loan to add her expenses, and saving to buy a home.
“Some days I just don’t know how to deal with it all, but Miss Helena (her United Way case worker) really goes out of her way to help me reach my goals and get me to where I want to be. And on those days, I tell myself, “Alright, Victoria, you can do this.’”
You can help families like Victoria’s with a donation to United Way.