Understanding ALICE: Hundreds gather to discuss financial hardships of working families

Date: July 13, 2017

When United Way released the groundbreaking Maryland ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report in January, it generated much interest among the media, legislators and politicians, those who work with and provide support for ALICE families and individuals and others across the state.

The report reveals a population that United Way has been serving for years: people who are working—often more than one job—but who just can’t make ends meet primarily because of the shortage of affordable housing, the high costs of daycare, and the lack of reliable and accessible transportation in Maryland.

United Way views the report not only as a call to action but as a public service, sharing its findings freely to help advance the agenda to improve the lives of ALICE families and individuals. To this end, United Way held a public forum in June, attracting nearly 300 attendees including representatives from area nonprofits; health, human and social service professionals; foundations and grant makers, and members of United Way’s board of directors.

Dr. Stephanie Hoopes, lead researcher and director of the United Way ALICE Project, shared details on the methodology behind the almost 200-page report and the implications of its findings on both a local level and as they relate to national trends. To date, 15 states have produced ALICE Reports and reports for the other 35 states are expected to be completed in the coming years, affording a comprehensive view of economic struggle across the nation.

Victoria Cox, a Baltimore City mother of two who struggles to cover just the basics with her paycheck, candidly shared the challenges and hard decisions ALICE faces every day. “On behalf of myself and all the other families that are facing homelessness or eviction, utility cut-off notices or having to choose bills or food, I implore you to take action,” she said. “The time for talking was yesterday, and every day that we wait another family sinks under. Your next step has to be toward action.”

A panel of experts—Dr. Hoopes; Dr. Memo Diriker, founding director of the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON); Millicent Nwolisa, executive director of Bridges to Housing Stability; and Kate Schulz, healthcare call specialist for the 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline—spoke of the many barriers to financial stability and the implications of social services budget cuts for ALICE families and individuals

The event also tapped into the experience and expertise that abounded in the room by soliciting ideas to help ALICE families during a table exercise at the conclusion of the forum. Participants were asked to list the obstacles that ALICE faced in their community; to identify low-cost or no-cost ideas to help address challenges around childcare, transportation, and access to affordable housing, healthcare and food; and to define indicators for measuring improvement in ALICE households. This valuable feedback, consolidated into a formal report, will be the subject of an upcoming statewide meeting of United Ways, and United Way of Central Maryland leadership is in the process of identifying actionable initiatives based on the forum recommendations to help improve the odds for ALICE in our region. “The need is real, and the opportunities for change are plentiful,” said United Way of Central Maryland president and CEO, Franklyn Baker. “The forum is one example of the many ways we will convene and collaborate with others as we fight for the financial stability of our ALICE families.”

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For more than 90 years, United Way of Central Maryland has been improving lives in the communities it serves: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County, Maryland.

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