The official poverty rate in the United States is 12.7% — but according to a new study by the United Way ALICE Project, 43% of American families don’t earn enough on a monthly basis to cover basic expenses like rent, food, health care, child care, transportation, or a cell phone.
That figure includes about 16 million families that are in poverty. It also includes 34.7 million families who work and earn enough that, formally speaking, they’re not in poverty. They are technically “middle class” — but as wages stagnate and housing prices skyrocket, the economic security and quality of life we usually associate with the term “middle class” just gets further and further out of reach. It’s no wonder millennials are the highest-educated but most debt-burdened generation in American history.
United Way calls the people who fall into this gap (not in poverty, but still struggling to make ends meet) the “ALICE” cohort: “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.” ALICE, this report argues, is the new American middle class:
ALICE is your child care worker, your parent on Social Security, the cashier at your supermarket, the gas attendant, the salesperson at your big box store, your waitress, a home health aide, an office clerk. ALICE cannot always pay the bills, has little or nothing in savings, and is forced to make tough choices such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent. One unexpected car repair or medical bill can push these financially strapped families over the edge.
We tend to measure the health of the economy by the unemployment rate or the stock market. But the unemployment rate has been falling for a decade, stocks are at an all time high — yet almost half of American families still live financially precarious lives. Maybe it’s time to start measuring the economy’s health in terms of how it affects our material lives.
You can check out United Way’s full report here.
Image credit: People Demanding Action