Meet ALICE, and the significant number of Lubbock's households struggling financially

October 21, 2020 | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

By Matt Dotray

Despite Lubbock's low unemployment rate, which was around 3% before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 40% of Lubbock's households are still struggling to pay for basic expenses.

That percentage has probably grown — Lubbock's unemployment rate was 6.1% in September, according to the most recent numbers from the Texas Workforce Commission.

For the past two years, the Lubbock Area United Way has attempted to shine a light on the number of households struggling financially. United Ways' annual community status report argues that simply looking at the number of residents living below the federal government's poverty line doesn't paint the full picture, because families living just above that poverty level can't pay for high healthcare costs, high childcare costs and can't save money for an unforeseen emergency.

United Way calls this group ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. United Way defines ALICE as households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living in Lubbock County.

United Way's annual community status report first identified this group as a growing issue in Lubbock in the 2019 community status report, and again in this year's report. The 2020 community status report says 19% of Lubbock households live below poverty level, while an additional 23% of households live below the ALICE line.

Added together, 42% of households in Lubbock County struggle to afford basic needs. And ALICE families may not be able to receive helpful assistance because they're listed above the poverty level.

"When 40% of American households do not earn enough to cover basic expenses, it proves a structural economic problem," the Lubbock Area United Way points out in its latest community status report. "Wages simply are not keeping pace with increases in cost of living across the nation."

The median household income from 2014-2018 in Lubbock County was $50,473, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. United Way says the estimated survival budget for a family of four in Lubbock County is $51,864.

"This reflects the bare minimum a household needs to live and work today," the report says. "It does not include savings for emergencies, future goals, or unexpected global pandemics."

United Way identifies the cost of child care as a growing strain on family budgets. Unexpected health care costs are the largest factor driving families into poverty.

United Way hosted its Mid-Campaign Report luncheon on Wednesday. Campaign Chair AJ Martinez announced $3.5 million has been raised so far through community contributions, which places United Way at 61.3% to the 2020 goal of $5.7 million.