A recent report shows that 31% of Livingston County households fail to make ends meet.

The Livingston County United Way joined the Michigan Association of United Ways in releasing a study on the condition of Michigan’s working families, which it has dubbed ALICE households—those that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The report found that ALICE households make up 26% percent of Livingston County, while households in poverty make up another 5%. Despite overall improvement in employment and gains in median income, 22,500 of Livingston County households cannot afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology. The ALICE report further revealed the cost of the average Michigan family budget increased by 27% from 2010 to 2017, despite a low rate of inflation nationwide—12% during the same timeframe. The report found that low-wage jobs dominate the employment landscape - with 61% of all jobs in Michigan paying less than $20 per hour. At the same time, an increase in contract jobs and on-demand jobs is leading to less financial stability. For the many households that earned slightly above the ALICE threshold in the past, increases in the cost of living and flat wages are said to have pushed them below the threshold and into financial hardship.

LCUW Community Investments Director Donna Gehringer says they always knew financial hardship wasn’t measured very well just by the federal poverty level but until ALICE came out, they didn’t really have a way to talk about or have everyone understand it. She noted the changing workforce and a shift in jobs to a more on-demand and contracted work - adding fewer people are able to get benefits through work now as well. Service jobs are also paying less money than old manufacturing jobs and skilled labor according to Gehringer, who noted there is also a real shortage of skilled labor and entry level factory workers locally. The high cost of childcare is also an issue for many local households. It all contributes to more pressures on working families and Gehringer also noted issues with the local housing market. Gehringer says Livingston County lacks diversity when it comes to housing options, which creates a lot of pressures on the rental market. She says any young families or others looking to purchase their first home or a starter home really can’t afford housing here so they rent. However, she says rental market is in extremely high demand, which drives up prices and hurts ALICE families even more. She likened it to a big hamster wheel until it can be figured out how to level things off.

Gehringer says the economy is changed and it won’t go back to how it was before so now the goal is to think about how to meet the challenges of this new, modern economy. Despite the challenges, Gehringer says good things are happening as people realize things need to change – noting there are conversations and cool collaborations happening, it’s just slow and tedious work but things will happen. She mentioned a recent symposium held on housing in which the housing crisis was discussed and again it was realized that changes must be made because things that used to work just don’t anymore. The Livingston County United Way currently works to provide some short- and medium-term solutions for ALICE households, such as offering scholarships to access quality child care, promoting free tax preparation and financial and career mentoring, and eviction diversion. Gehringer says the eviction diversion program through the Livingston County Homeless Continuum of Care, which has completely changed the way evictions are handled in the courts and few families are evicted - which really helps to foster stability and further avoids uprooting kids from school. Gehringer also noted the work of the Livingston County Transportation Coalition, which has a study and plan to address public transportation options- especially with an aging senior population.

Livingston County United Way Executive Director Nancy Rosso said Livingston County knows all too well the challenges ALICE families face. She says it’s critical that community organizations, business leaders and policymakers work in tandem to help Michigan’s hardworking families overcome the obstacles to make ends meet – adding the ALICE Report is an important step toward paving a path forward for the state. The full ALICE report can be accessed through the provided link. (JM)