ALICE Can’t Afford to Live in Frederick Anymore

One out of three households in Frederick County cannot afford the cost of living in Frederick County: one out of three are considered an “ALICE” household.

Who or what is ALICE? It’s an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed people who live in Frederick County. United Way released the ALICE report in January and has been active in sharing the results with leaders across the County.

These are working people – the “E” in ALICE stands for Employed. “Income Constrained” means that, based on their income, they are living paycheck to paycheck without luxuries like cable TV. The “AL” describes people who are asset limited – meaning without a savings account or an emergency fund. Their income just barely keeps their heads above water with little hope of improvement.

Last week United Way’s Community Impact Director, Malcolm Furgol, presented ALICE data at the Common Cents Conference in Bethesda [pictured above, photo by MEM]. Attendees represented nonprofits across the mid-Atlantic who focus on financial coaching, housing counseling, and the underserved. The panel on which Furgol served consisted of nonprofit leaders who shared similar data sets from southern Virginia and inner city Baltimore.

The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,568. In Frederick County, that same family of four, making $61,224, is having trouble finding a place to rent or buy, and paying their bills.

So why is it so tough to make it here on $60,000 a year? An average two-bedroom apartment in the county rents for $1,470 per month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, making Maryland the fourth most expensive state in the nation to rent in. Add in daycare, health insurance, transportation and food and money goes quickly.

If you work a minimum wage job at $9.25 per hour, you would put in 122 hours of the 168 hours in a week to afford that two-bedroom apartment and only spend 30 percent of your income on rent. The 30 percent rule is the national best practice number in determining housing affordability.

Furgol has spoken to more than 75 groups of business leaders and government officials to begin changing the perception of what qualifies as struggling, yet employed worker.

United Way has raised over $200,000 using these statistics to benefit the 27 nonprofit members of the Unity Campaign – a collective funding campaign to benefit Frederick Countians. Other local foundations are seeing ALICE data in grant applications – and one hopes this hyperlocal data will increase the numbers of clients assisted by the county’s nonprofits.

The irony is not lost on many nonprofit employees who fit into the ALICE rank – and provide needed services to their peers.

Furgol states,” Nonprofits and government can use the ALICE report’s data to help them identify priorities and determine what activities and programs would make the largest positive impact. There are many more potential uses depending on the audience and the goals they may have for the community.”

How could ALICE report data be used most productively in Frederick County?

Furgol: That is difficult to answer as there are lots of potential uses for the information in the report. Based on my experience, I would recommend using the data to raise awareness in the general population of the challenges ALICE households and the county face economically considering that one out of every three households cannot afford the basic cost of living in Frederick County.

I would also recommend it to be used as a tool to inform the business community as they make decisions regarding our workforce population. Nonprofits and government can use the report’s data to help them identify priorities and determine what activities and programs would make the largest positive impact. There are many more potential uses depending on the audience and the goals they may have for the community.

Why is it important to present hyperlocal data to a regional conference?

Furgol: It is important to share reports like the ALICE Report at a regional conference that include both state level and hyperlocal data so each conference participant can determine the best ways to use the data available to them for their own backyard. For example, in the session I am presenting on the ALICE Report, we are also including information from Prosperity Now’s Asset and Opportunity Scorecard and Community Action Partnership’s Self Sufficiency Standard and asking participants to break into small groups to discuss ideas on how to best leverage the information gained from all three reports in the work they do in their community. Then there will be time for participants to share with the group the ideas they have come up with to help each other identify powerful ways to leverage the data.

Has ALICE data raised funds yet for Frederick County nonprofits?

Furgol: Yes! The ALICE Report finding that one out of every three households cannot afford the cost of living in Frederick County has been the primary message used to promote the Unity Campaign this year. Though the campaign has yet to officially open to the public this Wednesday we have already raised over $200,000 using this messaging. In addition, many nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County and others have been using the report in their donation requests and grant applications.


This column was originally published here.

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