Who Is ALICE, and Why Should We Care?

 

Sue Murphy is the Executive Director of the Liberty Bank Foundation

At Liberty Bank Foundation, we spend a lot of time thinking about ALICE:  households that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed.  Why?

As a foundation affiliated with a business that profits from the wealth of our communities, we think it makes sense to give back to those communities by promoting economic success for people who don’t have wealth.  But it also makes sense because ALICEs are our customers—and customers of other local businesses as well.  The better these families do financially, the more they have to invest in our local economy.

Government should care about helping ALICE succeed, too.  Is it any wonder that our state is facing crushing deficits, when a third of our population is just barely scraping by?  How can we expect to boost tax revenue from people who are having to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table?

The bottom line is this:  it is in no one’s interest to have a third of our state’s population teetering on the edge of a financial cliff, constantly in danger of falling off.  On the contrary, every one of us—nonprofits, businesses, government, and the people next door who never heard of ALICE—would benefit from improving ALICE’s situation. 

The question is, how do we accomplish that?  I don’t pretend to know the answers, but here are some thoughts:

First, we must maintain a safety net that prevents ALICEs from slipping when a crisis arises.  The old “ounce of prevention” adage applies here.  It’s cheaper and more effective to prevent someone from losing a job or a home than it is to restore either of those things once they’re lost. 

Solutions for ALICE have to be collaborative.  It’s going to take the combined efforts of the nonprofit, business, and government sectors—working with, not on, ALICE families—to enable ALICEs to thrive.

And solutions must focus on the root causes that are keeping ALICEs down:  lack of affordable housing and transportation;  employment practices; the cost and availability of training and education; access to child care; the list goes on and on.  But we can’t allow ourselves to be overwhelmed or discouraged by it.  Economic stability and growth for ALICE is too vital to the future of our state. 

And the work of empowering ALICE has already begun.  United Way led the way with the research that revealed ALICE’s struggles.  The necessary forces are aligning to examine the issue and formulate solutions.  Please join me at the Partnership’s IForum on January 27 to explore those solutions and map out a plan of action.  It isn’t just ALICE’s fate that hangs in the balance here—it’s the future of all of us, together. 

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