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ALICE update: Wage growth no match for inflation

| June 24, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — More than 300,000 households in Idaho were living paycheck to paycheck from 2021 to 2022 according to the United Way of North Idaho and its research partner United For ALICE. 

That calculation includes the 76,202 Idaho households in poverty as well as another 227,003 defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the current economy.

Though wages for the lowest paid jobs have risen across the country at the fastest rate in four decades, the number of households struggling to get by in Idaho grew by more than 8,600 from 2021 to 2022, a press release said.

“There is no doubt, bigger paychecks helped, but regional growth, inflation and lack of access to housing and child care that’s affordable has converged to keep ALICE trapped,” said United Way of North Idaho Executive Director Mark Tucker. “This latest data is a reminder that while we have made some progress, our work is far from over.”

"ALICE in the Crosscurrents: An Update on Financial Hardship in Idaho" shows that while wages were increasing, so too were costs. 

ALICE workers include child care providers, home health aides and cashiers — those working low-wage jobs, with little or no savings and one emergency from poverty.

For a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the basic costs to live and work in Idaho, excluding tax credits, rose from $80,112 in 2021 to $83,700 a year later. Compounding the issue in 2022 was the loss of up to $15,000 in federal child tax credits and stimulus payments that this family had access to in 2021, the release said.

The findings in the one-year period are consistent with a more than decade-long trend: Since the end of the Great Recession, despite some ups and downs, the number of ALICE households in Idaho has been steadily growing. 

From 2010 to 2022, the total number of households rose by 21%, households in poverty decreased by 8% — and the number of ALICE households grew by 48%.

“The data is showing persistent and widespread financial hardship — a red flag that the current system isn't working for ALICE,” said Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., United For ALICE national director. “Current policy has not been enough to break down the barriers that trap ALICE households in financial hardship, from the loss of pandemic supports to inadequate community supports, such as broadband internet." 

According to the updated report, from 2010 to 2022, people age 65 and older made up the fastest-growing age group in Idaho — and the group with the largest increase (76%) in the number of households struggling to make ends meet.

United Way of North Idaho is collecting audio testimonials from ALICE individuals about the difficult financial choices they continue to face today given the high cost of essentials and ongoing inflation. Stories can be recorded at: ALICEvoices.org.

 Info: UnitedForALICE.org/Idaho.