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9&10 News: ALICE Report Highlights Financial Struggles of Michigan Families

Bill Froehlich

Thousands of families across Michigan struggle to make ends meet, and a new report highlights some of the concerns.

It’s called the ALICE report, commissioned each year by the United Way.

While things have improved over the last 10 years, many households still struggle to get by.

ALICE is an acronym, as Ranae McCauley with the United Way explains, “It stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained but Employed. So essentially, it’s working households.”

In the five-county Grand Traverse Region, between 24-30% of the population is struggling. McCauley says, “It’s a population we want to work with and we really want to focus on, to say how can we work together, where they’re not just surviving, but actually thriving.”

Each year the United Way commissions this ALICE report for all 83 counties in Michigan. And each year it’s a reality check about the financial hardships families are facing.

McCauley says, “When you’re living ALICE you’re living paycheck to paycheck. One paycheck, one day off when you’re off work due to illness or child’s illness could mean all the difference between paying your rent or not.”

While conditions have improved since the economic recovery started in 2010, many families still find themselves struggling with rising costs, whether it’s in housing, child care, or health care, to name a few.

Ten to 12% of the population is still living at or below poverty.

Arlene Brennan is the CEO at Traverse Health Clinic. She says, “People cannot live on that, you can’t address basic needs for a single person, let alone what the statistics are for a family.”

McCauley knows that’s true. “There’s something we call a benefit cliff. It means once you reach a certain income it’s all or nothing. You would receive no assistance anymore. You’re working hard and in some cases you may have been better off making less money. Which is absolutely counter-intuitive.”

ALICE is not intended to be a report with the answers. Instead, the goal is to recognize the trends and work together as a community to come up with answers.

Brennan says, “It brings in so many pieces, including housing, education, the ability to work, all the social and personal factors.”

Kerry Baughman is the executive director of the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency. She says, “The ALICE report is important because it tells the story of the communities we live in and the struggles faced by our neighbors, friends or own family members. When individuals and families struggle to afford basic needs, it impacts every aspect of who we are in northern Michigan, our economy, workforce, relationships and future.”