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Research Center • Tennessee

We all know people who are ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — earning more than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford the basics where they live. ALICE workers were celebrated as essential heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they do not earn enough to support their own families.

ALICE households and households in poverty are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent — choices that have long-term consequences not only for their families, but for all.

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County Reports 2021

Counties are the core geography for ALICE data: They reveal variations often masked by statewide averages, and the data is reported regularly and reliably. 

Use the tool below to see an overview of financial hardship, county by county. The County Profile highlights key aspects of county economies across the state, including details related to county demographics, the cost of living, and the labor landscape.

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To see combined data for two or more counties, use the ALICE Budgets, Demographics, and Labor Force pages



ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited,
Income Constrained, Employed — households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county. While conditions have improved for some households, many continue to struggle, especially as wages fail to keep pace with the rising cost of household essentials (housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a basic smartphone plan). Households below the ALICE Threshold — ALICE households plus those in poverty — can’t afford the essentials.

2021 Point-in-Time-Data


Number of Households:

Median Household Income:

Labor Force Participation Rate:

ALICE Households:

Households in Poverty:

Financial Hardship Has Changed Over Time in Tennessee

As circumstances change, households may find themselves below or above the ALICE Threshold at different times. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought employment shifts, health struggles, and school/business closures in 2021, it also spurred unprecedented public assistance through pandemic relief measures. In 2019, 1,211,160 households in Tennessee were below the ALICE Threshold; by 2021 that number had changed to 1,196,900. Use the buttons below to switch between ALICE data over time by number and percentage.

Financial Hardship is Not Equally Distributed

By total number, groups with the largest population of households below the ALICE Threshold tend to also be in the largest demographic groups. However, when looking at the proportion of each group that is below the ALICE Threshold, it is clear that some groups are more likely to be ALICE than others.

Households by Race, Tennessee, 2021

There were also differences in financial hardship by household type and age of householder.

Group% Below ALICE
Group% Below ALICE

The Cost of Basics Outpaces Wages

The Household Survival Budget reflects the minimum cost to live and work in the modern economy and includes housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, a smartphone plan, and taxes. It does not include savings for emergencies or future goals like college or retirement. In 2021, household costs in every county in Tennessee were well above the Federal Poverty Level of $12,880 for a single adult and $26,500 for a family of four.

Monthly Costs
and Credits
One Adult,
One Child
One Adult,
One In
Child Care
Monthly Costs
and Credits
Two Adults
Two Children
Two Adults,
Two In
Child Care

The Labor Landscape is Challenging for ALICE Workers

A small portion of adults (16 years and older) in Tennessee were unemployed and a large number were working in 2021. However, a significant portion of both full and part-time workers are paid by the hour; these workers are more likely to have fluctuations in income and less likely to receive benefits.

Labor Status, Population 16 and Over, Tennessee, 2021