Families struggle to get by in Whatcom County

In Common Voices, Economy, News by commonnw

More studies are confirming what we already know – that it’s getting harder for families to get by in Whatcom County.

This article, published by the Lynden Tribune, speaks to the United Ways claim of how local families struggle to make it in Whatcom County.

United Way 2016 analysis shows recession isn’t over for many working families…

Almost two-fifths of households struggle to cover basic …

WHATCOM — Nearly two in five county households couldn’t afford a basic monthly budget in 2016 that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a smartphone, according to reports put out last week by the United Way organizations of the Pacific Northwest and the United Way ALICE Project.

The 2016 data showed 39 percent of Whatcom County’s 84,011 households, or about 32,760, not earning enough to make ends meet.

A majority of these households, 18,482, are ALICE — a term meaning Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Individuals and families in this category earn above the federal poverty level, but have less than what it takes to survive in the local modern economy.

In addition, another 14,282 households, or 7.7 percent of the total, live below the federal poverty level.

The term ALICE was coined to shed light on those essential workers often overlooked by other economic indicators and policy discussions. ALICE is a child care worker, a home health aide, a store clerk. ALICE is every working person in a low-wage job, with little or no savings, who is one emergency away from poverty, as a more general profile.

“Whatcom County may well be one of the most beautiful places to live in the U.S. It’s also one of the least affordable places to live. The most recent ALICE Report confirms what our community has been telling us: We need to focus our impact work on improving the lives of those who struggle financially,” said Peter Theisen, head of United Way of Whatcom County.

The project is a grassroots movement that seeks to redefine financial hardship in the U.S. by providing comprehensive, unbiased data. Launched by the United Way of Northern New Jersey about 10 years ago at the start of the Great Recession, the research is being embraced by United Ways in 18 states. United Ways and partners are using the data to develop policies, allocate resources and address community needs.

“Despite seemingly positive economic signs, the ALICE data shows that financial hardship is still a pervasive problem,” said project director Stephanie Hoopes, who holds a Ph.D., leader of the data analysis in New Jersey.

“This research dispels long-standing myths about financial instability by showing that ALICE families exist in every community and among all ages, races and ethnicities,” Hoopes said.

Additional data analysis reveals this:

• Among the 39 percent of households in Whatcom County that cannot afford what is considered a basic survival budget, the percentage of struggling households within each census county division ranges from 31 percent to 48 percent.

• From 2010 to 2016, the cost of basic living expenses for a family of four (two adults, one infant, and one preschooler) had risen 28 percent in Washington State, compared to a nationwide inflation rate of only 9 percent.

• Although unemployment rates are falling, ALICE workers still struggle. Low-wage jobs dominate the landscape, with 50 percent of all jobs in Washington State paying less than $20 per hour, while an increase in contract jobs and on-demand jobs has created less stability. Gaps in wages persist and vary based on the type of employer as well as the gender, education, race and ethnicity of workers.