A United Way report titled ALICE in Illinois: A Financial Hardship Study,” was released today. “ALICE” is an acronym for asset limited, income constrained, employed. “The term represents the growing number of households in our communities that do not earn enough to afford basic necessities,” says the 108 page report.

The study found that 32% of the households in Evanston fell below the ALICE Threshold in 2017.

For purposes of the study, the total number of households in Evanston does not include students living in college dorms, but it does include those living off-campus. So, for example, the 32% number includes Northwestern students living off campus. A representative of United Way told the RoundTable they did not have data showing the number of college students living off-campus in Evanston.

The ALICE Threshold “is the average income that a household needs to afford the basic necessities defined by the Household Survival Budget, a measure that estimates the minimal cost of the six basic household necessities – housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a basic smartphone plan,” says the Report.

The Threshold varies by county and household type. For Cook County, a Household Survival Budget for a single adult is $21,444. For a household with two adults, one infant, and one preschooler, the Household Survival Budget is $60,444.  The table, top right, gives the breakdown by category of expense.

The amounts do not include savings for emergencies or future goals, such as college.

The report says, “ALICE households are working households. They hold jobs, pay taxes, and provide services that are vital to the Illinois economy. ALICE workers hold a variety of positions, as retail salespeople, laborers and movers, customer service representatives, and office workers. But these jobs do not pay enough for households to afford the basics of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology.

“Moreover, the growth of low-skill jobs is projected to outpace that of medium- and high-skill jobs into the next decade. At the same time, the cost of basic household necessities continues to rise. Given these projections, ALICE households will continue to make up a significant percentage of households in the state.”

The United for Alice website says, “Traditional measures of poverty do not capture the magnitude of people who are struggling financially. Our mission is to make the invisible visible by shining a light on the true number of families struggling in the U.S.”

The report was prepared by researchers employed by United Way, in collaboration with representatives from the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Illinois Public Health Institute, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Illinois Central College, lllinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois Wesleyan University, and the Institute for Housing Studies, DePaul University.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...