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A stark look at economic struggles within our community | Editorials

by Stella Morgan

Title: The ALICE Report: Shedding Light on Financial Struggles in Frederick County

Living in a prosperous nation like the United States, it can be easy to overlook the financial challenges faced by some of our fellow citizens. However, the United Way of Frederick County is working diligently to remind us that many of our neighbors are grappling with economic difficulties. The organization’s recently released ALICE report highlights the alarming increase in financially struggling households in Frederick County, Maryland.

ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed:
Every two years, the United Way of Frederick County conducts a study on the working poor households known as ALICE. The report aims to shed light on households that are asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed. Unfortunately, each time the report is released, the findings are somewhat shocking, revealing the magnitude of financial hardship in our community.

Rising Financial Struggles:
Despite robust efforts by the federal government to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, the percentage of financially struggling households in Frederick County has increased. The ALICE report unveiled a 4 percentage point increase, from 32% to 36%, between 2019 and 2021. Furthermore, within the 36% of struggling households, 7% are classified as living below the federal poverty level.

Population Growth and Data Analysis:
The increase in ALICE households is partly attributed to the overall growth in the county’s population. From 2019 to 2021, the county’s population surged from approximately 261,000 to around 280,000 individuals. To ensure the accuracy of their findings, the United Way delayed the release of the ALICE report by one year, relying on 2021 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in the absence of comprehensive 2020 census data.

ALICE vs. Federal Poverty Level:
The federal poverty level for 2021 was determined to be $12,880 for a single person and $26,500 for a family of four. It is essential to note that most ALICE households do not qualify for federal programs while still struggling to make ends meet. The ALICE survival budget, based on 2021 data, was calculated to be $47,220 for a single person and $97,800 for a family of four.

The Grim Outlook:
Considering the current situation, it is sobering to ponder what the next ALICE report may reveal. Recent data from the Census Bureau indicates a sharp increase in poverty rates across the United States, especially among children, due to rising living costs and expiring federal aid programs. Poverty in the United States rose from 7.8% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022, marking the largest one-year jump on record. The child poverty rate more than doubled, reaching 12.4% from a previously record low of 5.2%.

The Importance of Safety Net Programs:
The past few years have highlighted the severity of poverty in our local community and the nation as a whole. However, the temporary expansion of safety net programs during the pandemic demonstrated their significant impact in lifting families out of poverty. The direct payments to households, enhanced unemployment benefits, nutrition assistance, rental assistance, and expanded child tax credit showcased the potential to create a guaranteed income and alleviate financial struggles.

A Call to Action:
The ALICE report serves as a clarion call for collective action. It is imperative that we address the underlying causes of financial hardship, invest in necessary resources, and champion the expansion of safety net programs in our community and beyond. By working together, we can make a tangible difference in the lives of those facing economic challenges, ensuring that all residents can thrive and enjoy the abundance that our land of plenty has to offer.

The United Way of Frederick County’s ALICE report casts a revealing light on the financial struggles faced by our neighbors. It is crucial that we do not overlook or underestimate the magnitude of this issue. By acknowledging the challenges and committing ourselves to action, we can create a community that uplifts and supports all its members, irrespective of their financial circumstances. Together, we have the power to build a more equitable society, one where everyone can thrive.

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