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COVID-19 Hit as Record Number of ALICE Families Were Priced Out of Survival

The Maryland United Ways 2020 ALICE Report finds that 39 percent of state residents can’t make ends meet. Number is now clearly higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. May 10, 2021

BALTIMORE (July 27, 2020) – Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 39 percent of Maryland’s more than two million households were already one emergency away from financial ruin – a 10-year record high – setting the stage for the unprecedented economic impact of the crisis, according to the state’s latest ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) in Maryland: A Financial Hardship Study, released today by United Ways of Maryland and sponsored by Kaiser Permanente. While nine percent of these households live below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), another 30 percent are ALICE households – earning more than the FPL, but not enough to afford basic household necessities like food, housing, transportation, health care, and childcare.

“Today, as we face record unemployment rates, we know the number of Maryland households that are struggling is more than has been accounted for in our report – which is based on data collected in 2018,” said Franklyn Baker, president and CEO, United Way of Central Maryland. “The pandemic has exposed exactly the issues of economic fragility that the ALICE Report reveals and for thousands that the impact of COVID-19 has suddenly thrust into the ALICE population. Of the tens of thousands of calls we have received to the 211 Maryland United Way Helpline for food, healthcare, housing assistance, and other resources, many are from those who have not had to deal with these challenges before As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our economy, we will continue to provide what’s needed, where it’s needed for those in our region who are struggling to rebuild their lives.”

Unlike today’s economy, from 2010 to 2018, Maryland showed steady economic improvements according to traditional measures.

Unemployment in the state and across the U.S. fell to historic lows, gross domestic product (GDP) grew, and wages rose slightly. However, the cost of living rose, and worker vulnerability increased while wages in ALICE jobs were stagnate. As a result, the number of ALICE households increased by 57 percent in Maryland from 2007 to 2018. Of those, more than half are Black households. The data shows that while hardship is pervasive, the history of slavery and its ongoing legacy of systemic and institutional racism stigmatizes Black households uniquely. In every state, including Maryland, United For ALICE research documents the persistent and widening disparities in income and wealth between Black households and households of other races and ethnicities.

The ALICE in Maryland: A Financial Hardship Study shows that in 2018, the cost of survival ranged annually from $33,636 for a single adult, to $36,804 for a senior citizen and $87,156 for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler. Putting this in perspective, the median hourly wage for cashiers, the most common occupation in Maryland, was $10.67, or $21,340 per year, if someone is working full-time, year-round. Though minimum wage in Maryland has been raised to $11 in 2020, that is still an income of $22,000 for a full-time, year-round worker – less than any of the budgets.

This mismatch between wages and costs is revealed by a new measurement debuting in this report, called the ALICE Essentials Index. This Index chronicles how the cost of housing, food, transportation, health care, childcare, and a smartphone plan rose at nearly twice the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. The result is that in 2018, two parents working full time each needed to earn $21.79 an hour in order to afford the Household Survival Budget for a family of four. That’s up from a wage of less than $14.12 an hour affording that budget in 2007. During the same period, the number of low-wage jobs grew by 61 percent, accounting for the largest number of jobs in Maryland in 2018. The actual cost of household basics in every county in Maryland is far above the FPL for all household sizes and types studied.

“The ALICE Essentials Index shows that, through no fault of their own, ALICE families have been priced out of economic stability, setting the stage for the scope of this crisis,” said United For ALICE National Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D. “Using the Consumer Price Index alone to measure inflation provides an incomplete picture of the cost of living, severely underestimating the mounting financial pressures on ALICE families.”

The ALICE Report has also helped to inform further research into the benefits cliff—a term used to describe the loss of public benefits resulting from small increases in earned income. In partnership with the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy and Kaiser Permanente, Maryland United Ways have also released The Impact of the Benefits Cliff study, which found that 9.4 percent of the Maryland population lives on incomes below 100 percent of the FPL, and another 12.3 percent have incomes below 125 percent of the FPL. Public assistance programs are based on the FPL, but the FPL is not enough for a household to cover even its most minimal costs. That means that assistance programs serve far fewer households than actually need assistance, even in a strong economy, and that a small increase in wages of only $100 per year for example, can lead to hundreds of dollars in lost benefits per month and severe financial hardship.

“The ALICE Report provides crucial data and insights that will inform community leaders and lawmakers as they develop strategies and policies that support these working families, many of whom are essential workers who put themselves at risk every day during the current pandemic,” said Celeste A. James, executive director, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente, which sponsored the ALICE Report and Benefits Cliff Study. “At Kaiser Permanente, we recognize that when you struggle to afford healthy food, a secure place to live, or access to transportation or health care, you can’t achieve total health. We must address inequities in our society that prevent individuals and families from achieving economic opportunities, financial stability and optimal health and wellbeing.”

Baker said the report’s findings should be put in play immediately to identify state and local support that addresses the unique challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on ALICE families as businesses and schools remain closed indefinitely.

The report calls for stakeholders across all sectors to use its findings to remove obstacles to financial stability, identify gaps in community resources, and build data-driven solutions to help ALICE families achieve economic stability, bolstering the state’s economy overall.

The ALICE Report for Maryland was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and is a project of United For ALICE, a grassroots movement of nearly 650 United Ways in 21 states, corporations, and foundations, all using the same methodology to document financial need. ALICE Reports provide county-by-county and town-level data, and analysis of how many households are struggling, including the obstacles ALICE households face on the road to financial independence.

For more information or to find data about ALICE in local communities, visit

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United Way of Central Maryland promotes equity, creates opportunity, and improves lives by increasing access to basic needs such as health, housing, employment, and education. Learn more at

About United For ALICE

United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, shining a light on the challenges ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households face and finding collaborative solutions. Through a standardized methodology that assesses the cost of living in every county, this project provides a comprehensive measure of financial hardship across the U.S. Equipped with this data, ALICE partners convene, advocate, and innovate in their local communities to highlight the issues faced by ALICE households and to generate solutions that promote financial stability. The grassroots movement represents United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit:

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Our belief that economic and environmental factors drive total health leads us to invest in approaches that have health, economic and social impacts and promote wellbeing for our members and communities, particularly those experiencing inequities and injustice.


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