ALICE Essentials Index
We all know people who are ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. 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, which have long-term consequences not only for their families, but for all.
In order to better understand this growing population of struggling households, United For ALICE provides a framework, language, statistics, and tools that community stakeholders can use to inform policy and drive innovation.
The Cost of Household Basics is Rising
The ALICE Essentials Index measures the increase over time in the costs of the essential goods and services that households need to live and work in the modern economy. These minimum costs are itemized in the ALICE Household Survival Budget.
The ALICE Essentials Index includes only essential household items (housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a smartphone plan). In comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) covers a large group of goods and services that urban consumers buy regularly (housing, food and beverages, transportation, medical care, apparel, recreation, education, and communication services).
To see itemized costs for Household Survival Budget items, select a partner state in the drop-down above, then click “Household Budgets.”
The ALICE Essentials Index is Increasing Faster Than Traditional Inflation and Wages
Across the U.S., the ALICE Essentials Index has increased at a higher rate than the CPI for more than fifteen years. From 2007 to 2023, the average annual rate of increase for the ALICE Essentials Index was 3.3%, while the CPI increased by 2.5% on average. For context, the median wage for the most common occupation in the U.S., a retail salesperson, increased 2.8% annually from 2007 to 2022 (the latest data available). The sustained lag behind the actual cost of basic goods equates to a loss of more than $26,000 over the past 15 years for a retail salesperson — more than a full year’s earnings.
Comparison of Inflation, ALICE Essentials Index vs. CPI and Retail Sales Wage, United States, 2007–2023
Inflation in Basic Costs Varies by Location Across the U.S.
To better understand differences in the increasing cost of basic goods, the ALICE Essentials Index includes variations by urban and rural counties, U.S. regions, and states.
Inflation in Basic Costs in Urban and Rural Counties
Nationally from 2007 to 2023, the basic household goods in the ALICE Essentials Index were 18% to 25% more expensive in urban areas than in rural areas. However, those costs increased at nearly the same rate during this period — 3.1% annually in rural areas and 3.4% annually in urban areas.
ALICE Essentials Index, Urban vs. Rural Counties, United States, 2007–2023
Inflation by Region
Regional variations of the ALICE Essentials Index provide comparable measures of inflation for the four regions in the U.S. from 2007 to 2023. By the end of the period, basic household goods were most expensive in the West and Northeast, less expensive in the South, and least expensive in the Midwest. Over time, the rate of inflation was fairly similar across U.S. regions, with a few exceptions. For example, during the Great Recession (2007–2010), the rate in the South surged higher than in the other regions, and during the pandemic (2019–2022), the rate of inflation was highest in the West and lowest in the South.
ALICE Essentials Index by Region, United States, 2007–2023
Inflation in ALICE Partner States
Additional data is available for ALICE partner states. Select a state using the drop-down below to download a state ALICE Essentials Index Fact Sheet and to view a chart with the following indices over time:
- National ALICE Essentials Index
- Regional ALICE Essentials Index (based on selected state)
- State ALICE Essentials Index
- National CPI
- Regional CPI
- State Retail Sales Wages
Click the legend items below the chart to show or hide indices.