TAMPA BAY — The number of Florida and Suncoast region families living paycheck to paycheck continues to rise, and the loss of pandemic relief programs may create even more issues for them according to a new report from United Way Suncoast and its research partner United For ALICE.
The ranks of Florida households unable to afford the basics grew by more than 227,000 during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a total of 3,866,606 households or 45% struggling to afford the basics by 2021. Within United Way Suncoast’s five-county footprint — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties — that number sits at 615,627 households or 44%.
That calculation includes the 168,867 households in poverty as well as another 446,760 families defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy. ALICE families have been overlooked and undercounted by traditional poverty measures. ALICE is the nation’s childcare workers, home health aides and cashiers heralded during the pandemic – those working low-wage jobs, with little or no savings and one emergency from poverty.
While job disruptions and inflation delivered significant financial pain, a combination of pandemic supports and rising wages did help to blunt what could have been a deeper financial crisis, the report finds. However, signs of financial stress lie on the horizon as some benefits are peeled back, and inflation persists.
The report, ALICE in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship, reflects Florida’s consistent increase in the number of ALICE households, dating back to the 2008 recession. The COVID-19 pandemic was no different: Florida saw a large migration into the state paralleled with increasing cost of living. In the wake of the pandemic, the Suncoast region saw an additional 28,000 ALICE households struggling to make ends meet. Today, over 2 in 5 households in the Suncoast region are ALICE. On and after April 26, you can find information about the report at unitedforalice.org/florida and unitedforalice.org/national-overview.
Florida has one of the highest percentages of households struggling to make ends meet, falling to 44th of the 50 states for financial security.
“It could have been so much worse for these families, whose struggle to feed their families, afford health care and access quality education was often hidden in plain sight until the pandemic,” said United Way Suncoast CEO, Jessica Muroff. “Equipped with the ALICE name and data, we can do even better to develop effective policies and track our progress toward reducing financial hardship in Florida. We have an opportunity to build on what was learned during the pandemic as ALICE families continue to face economic uncertainty.”
According to the report, for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the annual ALICE Household Survival Budget, which is the basic cost needed to live and work in the Suncoast, was $88,080 in 2021. The Child Tax Credit and Child Dependent Care Tax Credit Expansion enacted to help soften the blow, reduced the family Survival Budget down to $73,092. That assistance expired in December of last year
Even with the variety of temporary pandemic supports available, in 2021, a family of four with two children in childcare and two-full time workers earning salaries as a retail salesperson and a cashier – two of the most common occupations in Florida – fell short of fulfilling the annual family budget by $9,000.
“A positive change during the pandemic was that tax credits, stimulus payments and rental assistance were available for ALICE households and provided strong relief,” said Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., United For ALICE National Director. “However, as some of these supports come to an end, growing food insufficiency and other indicators reveal continued stress. Ignoring these warning signs places ALICE, our economy and the well-being of our communities at great risk.”