United Way study shows growing financial hardship

Many families above the poverty line still struggling, data whows

Financial hardship doesn’t stop at the poverty line, a new United Way study shows.

United for ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – released a project report Wednesday that measures data representing households that are working and above the federal poverty line but still cannot afford the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation.

The cost of basic needs in Lee County outpaced the rate of inflation and wage growth, rising 27%, to $20,821, annually for a single adult and increasing 38%, to $59,176, for a family of four with an infant and preschooler, according to the study.

Meanwhile, median earnings increased by only 12% during the same period.

About 22% of households in Lee County are ALICE households, nearly double the number in poverty.

When combined with households in poverty, 34% of Lee County households can’t afford to pay basic bills, according to the report.

The report is an improvement on federal poverty level data, United Way of Lee County Executive Director Keri Olson said.

“ALICE provides accurate, comprehensive measure of the scope, causes and consequences of poverty,” she said. “This will provide a basis for identifying problems, planning policy solutions, and allocating resources.”

The largest expense for families in Lee County is child care, then housing. Placing an infant and a preschooler in child care costs $1,198 a month, while housing a family of four is $705 a month.

The largest percentage of ALICE and poverty households is in Amboy, at 48%, and the smallest is in the village of Lee, at 30%. Dixon has 39%.

In Whiteside County, 27 % of households fall under ALICE.

Lyndon and Sterling have the highest percentage of ALICE and poverty households at 48%, with the village of Como having the lowest at 14%. Rock Falls and Morrison are at 45% and 43%, respectively.

Highest monthly costs for Whiteside County families are child care and health care at $1,241 and $683, followed closely by housing at $682.

“ALICE data is critical information that will help United Way and other organizations better shape our services to meet the greatest human need,” said Diana Verhulst, executive director of the United Way of Whiteside County. “We expect it to work hand-in-hand with other available resources to produce an accurate portrait of our population.”

In Ogle County, 23% are ALICE households, while 11% fall under the poverty line.

Forreston and Oregon carry the highest percentage of ALICE households – 49% – while the lowest is in Lost Nation, 7%.

The highest monthly family costs are for child care and housing at $1,302 and $721, respectively.