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Nearly One-third of Local Households Struggle to Make Ends Meet

New report shows many faced financial insecurity before COVID-19

Thirty-one percent of Door County’s households are struggling to afford basic necessities such as housing, child care, food, transportation and internet access. That statistic and others were reported in the state’s third ALICE report, released recently by United Way of Wisconsin in partnership with United for ALICE and local United Ways across the state, including United Way of Door County. 

ALICE, which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” describes households earning more than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) but less than the state’s basic cost of living. The report calls the basic cost of living and being employed in the modern economy the “ALICE Threshold.” 

In Door County, 22 percent of the households are within the ALICE Threshold, while another 9 percent fall below the FPL. Those households are dispersed across the county. For example, 36 percent of the households in Brussels, 38 percent in Sturgeon Bay and 46 percent in Sister Bay are below the ALICE Threshold.

The report has been published biennially since 2016. The latest version features data collected in 2018 and focuses on the financial struggle of ALICE families statewide since 2010. New statistics suggest a slight improvement, with a shift from 32 percent of Door County households falling below the ALICE Threshold in 2016 to the latest figure of 31 percent in 2018. 

The financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to have upended that small momentum, however. As the pandemic’s economic effects unfold, households below the ALICE Threshold are expected to face acute hardship through wage insecurity, disruption of child care services and barriers to working or attending school virtually. 

“Even before COVID-19, our ALICE neighbors were working hard to provide for their families,” said Amy Kohnle, executive director of United Way of Door County. “The current crisis is only highlighting that

despite this hard work, constant uncertainty and the struggle of financial hardship are the reality faced by nearly one in three Door County households.”

Some of the report’s findings show that 78 percent of Door County jobs pay less than $20 an hour, despite a cost of living that increases faster than inflation. And 42 percent of Door County senior households (i.e., 65 years and older) struggle to afford basic necessities; 35 percent of these are ALICE households; and 7 percent fall below the FPL.

In Wisconsin, annual home-based ($9,873) and center-based ($12,552) child care costs for an infant are greater than annual tuition at an in-state, public, four-year university ($9,080).

Beginning as a pilot program in New Jersey, United for ALICE has grown to include 21 states and more than 648 United Ways. Each statewide study uses the same methodology for documenting financial

need and hardship, building on the original ALICE report developed by United Way of Northern New Jersey in partnership with Rutgers University.

United Way of Door County is committed to improving the lives of ALICE families and those in poverty by promoting resources for health, education and financial stability. Addressing these issues will not

only help to advance the quality of life for those suffering from continued financial hardship, but will also uplift communities as a whole.

“We’re committed to changing the way we view our neighbors experiencing financial distress,” Kohnle said. “By challenging commonly held beliefs around poverty and economic hardship, we can begin to understand the factors holding so many residents back and what we need to do as a community to build a better future.”

To read a copy of the report and find county-by-county and town-level data on the size and demographics of the Wisconsin ALICE population, as well as the community conditions and costs that disproportionately affect these families, visit unitedwaywi.org/page/ALICE.