The ranks of Indian River County households unable to afford the basics grew by 11% during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a total of 31,221 households or 45% struggling to afford the basics, according to a new report from United Way of Indian River County and its research partner United For ALICE.
That calculation includes the 6,890 households in poverty and another 24,331 families defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy. ALICE families have been overlooked and undercounted by traditional poverty measures. ALICE is the nation’s childcare workers, home health aides, and cashiers heralded during the pandemic – those working low-wage jobs with little or no savings and one emergency from poverty. They are hardworking people one paycheck away from financial ruin. Even using the most conservative cost scenarios for a family’s monthly expenses, these ALICE families live on the brink of financial disaster every day — at risk of falling over the precipice when an emergency comes their way.
The newly released report ALICE in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship in Florida shows that the total number of financially insecure households rose by 6% between 2019 and 2021 –while the total number of households in Indian River County grew by 9%.As a result, the share of households below the ALICE Threshold remained relatively unchanged (46% in 2019 and 45% in 2021), despite the increase in households struggling to make ends meet.
Florida ranked 44th in financial hardship among all 50 states, with one of the nation’s highest percentages of households struggling to make ends meet in 2021.
While job disruptions and inflation delivered significant financial pain, a combination of pandemic supports and rising wages did help to blunt what could have been a deeper financial crisis, the report finds. However, as some benefits are peeled back and inflation persists, signs of greater financial stress are on the horizon.
“It could have been so much worse for these families, whose struggle to feed their families, afford health care, and access quality education was often hidden in plain sight until the pandemic,” said United Way of Indian River County CEO Meredith Egan. “Equipped with the ALICE name and data, we can do even better to develop effective policies and track our progress toward reducing financial hardship in Indian River County. We have an opportunity to build on what was learned during the pandemic as ALICE continues to face economic uncertainty.”
According to the report, for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the annual ALICE Household Survival Budget, which is the basic cost needed to live and work in our community, was $69,480 in 2021. Even with the variety of temporary pandemic supports available, a family of four with two-full time workers earning salaries as a retail salesperson and customer service representative – two of the most common occupations in Florida – fell short of affording the family budget.
“A positive change during the pandemic was that tax credits, stimulus payments, and rental assistance were available for ALICE households and provided strong relief,” said Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., United For ALICE National Director. “However, as some of these supports come to an end, growing food insufficiency and other indicators reveal continued stress. Ignoring these warning signs places ALICE, our economy, and the well-being of our communities at great risk.”
Additional report insights include:
- Racial disparities persist in the rates of financial hardship; 17% of Black and 12% of Hispanic households were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021, compared to 9% of White households in Indian River County.
- Fellsmere residents had among the highest rates of hardship. Nearly half – 53% – of households could not afford basics in 2021 compared to 43% of Vero Beach households.
- In 2021, 70% of Florida’s 20 most common jobs paid less than $20 per hour. Earning less than $20 hourly was not enough to support a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, even with two parents earning this salary.
To read the report and access online, interactive dashboards that provide data on financial hardship at the state, county and local level, visit United4ALICE.org/ALICECrosscurrents.
About United Way of Indian River County
United Way of Indian River County (UWIRC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every community member. United Way works with local programs to provide resources to individuals and families in crisis today while working year-round to improve community conditions and create lasting solutions. We are effectively building a solid foundation and improving lives by mobilizing the caring power of our community. For more information about your local United Way, please call (772) 567-8900 or visit our website, UnitedWayIRC.org.
About United For ALICE
United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, research and action to improve life across the country for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and for all. Through the development of the ALICE measurements, a comprehensive, unbiased picture of financial hardship has emerged. Harnessing this data and research on the mismatch between low-paying jobs and the cost of survival, ALICE partners convene, advocate and collaborate on solutions that promote financial stability at local, state and national levels. This grassroots ALICE movement, led by United Way of Northern New Jersey, has spread to 27 states and includes United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit: UnitedForALICE.org.