Latest ALICE population data highlights struggles many families face


United Way of the Southern Alleghenies

If "The Brady Bunch" was a modern family living in our region, there's a good chance it would be an Alice household.

Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with an all-star housekeeper. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are hard-working people who don't qualify for government assistance, yet face financial instability, even for basic needs.

The United Way of Pennsylvania released the most recent data, from 2022, about the ALICE population in the state. About 40%, or 2.1 million households, are essentially working poor, or in outright poverty. The results locally are startling, particularly for Somerset County, where the percentage of households living at ALICE levels or lower is at 53%. That's a 10-percentage point increase from the prior year's data.

Blair and Cambria counties faired a little better, staying flat at 42% and 46%, respectively. In both counties, however, more households shifted down to poverty level.

“The unfortunate reality is that there is a widening economic gap in Pennsylvania. Policy and economic development work needs to be done to move ALICE families into the middle class,” shared United Way of the Southern Alleghenies President, Karen Struble Myers.

A list of the state's top occupations provided by the United Way of Pennsylvania includes numerous popular service jobs like retail, cashiers, cooks, and waitstaff. Those employees typically earn less than $15 an hour. Working at that level full-time would be a little more than $30,000 a year. Back in 1985, that would be worth about $89,000 in today's dollars, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But today, a four-household family in Blair, Cambria, or Somerset counties at that wage will fall about $4,000 to $10,000 or more short of a "survival budget" of about $74,500 to $76,164, depending on the age of the children, per UWP statistics. That's with both adults working. Child care, food, and transportation costs are leading expenses, clocking in at more than $1,000 each, every month. The UWP online calculator used two children under age 2 in this example.

“For families with young children, child care is a significant portion of their household budget. Sadly, we’ve seen women leave the workforce because of the economics of accessing that care. We know that child care providers are barely scraping by, so it is important to take a systems wide view of these challenges,” Struble Myers said. 

United Way is here to help

United Way programming, sustained by our generous supporters, provides vital support in key areas. A package of diapers each month often unlocks the ability for children to attend day care, preventing lost work hours for parents or guardians. There are 255 households taking part in the diaper program monthly. There are also services that provide food, utility assistance, and even warm coats for kids that are helping families each day.

Educational services offer trained professionals who are ensuring that hundreds of kids succeed pre-kindergarten while meeting goals along the way.

It's part of the way that together, we can mitigate the struggles ALICE families face each day in our community.

“When we work collectively, we can create healthy, hopeful communities where all people experience a good quality of life," Struble Myers said.