The percentage of families living below ALICE standards in Baltimore, via United Way of Central Maryland

Forty-seven percent of Baltimore’s households aren’t bringing in enough income to afford basic household necessities like food, transportation, housing, health care, child care and tax bills, according to a new report from the United Way of Central Maryland.

The same is true for 36 percent of families in Baltimore County, 33 percent in Harford and Anne Arundel counties, 27 percent in Carroll County and 26 percent in Howard County. Statewide, the number of families that can’t afford what United Way has called a “survival budget,” is 38 percent.

The study is part of a series from United Way that has drawn a new line for how much income a four-person family must pull in to afford the basics. The standard, ALICE, stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” and represents families who make too much income to fall below the federal poverty line, but not enough to afford the basics. Thirty-five percent of families were either living below the poverty line–$24,300 for a family of four as of 2016—or fit the ALICE designation in 2017, indicating the situation worsened for families over the last year.

The “household survival budget” standard for Maryland families is $69,672, but it varies based on where you live. For example, the suburbs ($85,800 for Howard County, $82,332 for Anne Arundel, $79,080 for Harford) are far more costly than Baltimore City ($64,392).

“ALICE isn’t going away,” United Way of Central Maryland president and CEO Franklyn Baker said in a statement, “and as this latest report shows, the numbers are only increasing. We must continue to work together to help remove barriers in areas such as housing, transportation and childcare that prevent so many of our citizens from leading a stable, secure life.”

United Way began measuring how families were faring under the ALICE standard in 2010, after the Great Recession. It’s now covering 18 states across the country. The report points to a 30 percent increase in the family “survival budget” through 2016, far outpacing inflation, growth in wages and upticks in the number of low-wage jobs–half of them paying less than $20 per hour–and “gig”-style employment, among other factors.

It also highlights population shifts, saying that millennials, seniors and immigrants are gravitating toward urban areas, pushing up demand for “smaller, low-cost housing units, and expanded public transportation” and driving up rental prices, “making it harder for ALICE households of all ages to find and afford basic housing.”

United Way’s report doesn’t offer specific fixes for inequality, but offers “samples” of ideas to consider. Some examples: incorporating digital skills into public education to boost job readiness, expanding family access to credit and financial tools, addressing very general barriers to employment across populations (physical and mental health and lack of reliable transportation, for example) and ending discrimination in housing, the criminal justice system, the workplace and education.

“There is no one solution: A host of strategies will be needed to build and fortify a nation where working people and their families aren’t left behind,” the report concludes.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

2 replies on “Statewide, 38 percent of families struggle to afford basic necessities, report says”

  1. The map featured in the article shows numbers in each one of the neighborhood statistical areas, but those numbers don’t actually represent the percentage below ALICE threshold, as some people might assume. The numbers refer to a key of neighborhood statistical area names, which is not pictured in this article. The percentage is only reflected in the shade of the polygon.

    1. Hi Victor, that’s correct. The key down at the bottom with the spectrum (16 percent to 77 percent) is the guide here. That’s what will tell the viewer the percentage of people living below the ALICE threshold in one of the 56 enumerated areas on the map.

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