Latest ALICE report hints economic growth isn’t reaching everyone

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

Despite 20 years as a full-time child care worker, Jaime struggles to make a living in New Jersey. Her story is not unlike more than a third of households in the state where residents can’t make ends meet. Even with a post-recession recovery, Jaime is considered part of a growing population called ALICE — asset limited, income constrained, employed.

“The economy is doing well and yet the ALICE measures and budgets show that it’s not reaching everybody,” said Stephanie Hoopes, director of the United Way ALICE Project.

The number of households struggling to afford basic needs grew by 15 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to the United Way ALICE Report released Monday. It shows that in 2016, 1.2 million, or 38.5 percent, of New Jersey households live in poverty or fit the definition of working poor.

“ALICE faces huge problems in terms of housing, affordable housing availability, child care availability, especially quality child care,” said Hoopes. “And as we know, health care is a challenge everywhere.”

ALICE households hit both the young and old, all races and ethnicities, especially households headed by a recent immigrant. Those with low skills or a disability are also vulnerable.

“I think most concerning to everybody is that people are working in their prime years, 25-to 64-years-old, are ALICE and poverty,” Hoopes said.

New Jersey’s always been a high cost of living state, but the numbers are grim. In 2016, costs for basic needs outpaced both the rate of wage growth and inflation, rising 16 percent according to the ALICE report. That means a single adult needed a household survival budget of $24,300 to get by. But a family of four with two young children in day care needed around $75,000 a year for the bare minimum, with no savings.

“The simple solution is to raise people’s incomes, something that we can do immediately by moving on raising the minimum wage, which all houses and the governor have expresses support for,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families.

Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged the report Monday and vowed to make inroads on a higher minimum wage. He said in a statement, “We must make this a legislative priority and work to enact it before the end of the upcoming holidays. Economic stability would be among the best holiday gifts we could possibly give our ALICE families.”

The report’s author says there’s a lot more that needs to be addressed for New Jersey’s cost of living other than the minimum wage but it’s certainly a start.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.