A.L.I.C.E. 2016

The 2016 United Way ALICE Report is Now Available

WHO IS ALICE? With the cost of living higher than what most people earn, ALICE families—an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—have income above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but not high enough to afford a basic household budget that includes housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care. ALICE households live in every county in New York—urban, suburban, and rural—and they include women and men, young and old, and all races and ethnicities.

The New York ALICE Report was funded by the 38 United Ways in New York State and KeyBank with assistance from IBM.

To read the report and view state and municipal data on the size and demographics of ALICE households and to learn more about how this financial hardship affects ALICE families and our communities, visit www.UnitedWayALICE.org/NewYork.

The United Way ALICE Report for New York and the 2014 Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York City

United Way of New York City, along with 37 other United Ways from across New York State, has collaborated to produce the United Way ALICE Report, a study of households in our communities who do not earn enough to afford basic necessities—the population called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). The Report provides a framework, language, and tools for stakeholders to understand, measure, and ultimately implement changes that improve the lives of ALICE in New York State. The United Way ALICE Project has grown from a pilot in Morris County, New Jersey in 2009, to the entire state of New Jersey in 2012, and is in the process of expanding with United Way ALICE Reports in many states across the country.

The ALICE Report for New York will contribute to the statewide dialogue about poverty; however, it is critical to recognize that UWNYC has invested for years in a more rigorous approach to measuring income adequacy to understand what it takes to become self-sufficient in New York City. The Self-Sufficiency Standard was developed to provide a more accurate and nuanced measure of what it takes to meet basic needs adequately, but without any public or private assistance. As of 2016, the Standard has been calculated for 37 states and the District of Columbia. For the past 14 years, Women's Center for Education and Career Advancement has arranged for the update of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York City. A fourth edition, the 2014 Self-Sufficiency Standard Report, was published in partnership with the United Way of New York City, the Women's Center for Education and Career Advancement, The New York Community Trust, and City Harvest.

Both approaches are frameworks to think about poverty and need in our communities and create household budgets -the Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS) and the ALICE report’s Household Survival Budget (HHSB) - to develop estimates of the share of households with income too low to afford basic necessities. However the purpose and budget calculations are critically different and raise meaningful comparisons. Ultimately, the HHSB is too low and unrealistic for New York City’s true cost of living and does not provide a detailed and nuanced picture of life in the Five Boroughs. As such, the ALICE Report Household Survival Budget is not an accurate measure of need in New York City, as it may be for other areas of the state and country, and we encourage interested parties to refer to the 2014 Self-Sufficiency Standard Report for New York City.

COMPARING THE SELF-SUFFICIENCY STANDARD AND HOUSEHOLD SURVIVAL BUDGET

The Self-Sufficiency Standard and Household Survival Budget are both household budgets that cover basic necessities including housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care, as well as taxes, based on official data sources including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at the U.S. Department of Labor. They each demonstrate that far too many New York households struggle to afford basic household necessities. However, there are significant differences in the purpose, methodology choices, and calculations of the budgets that result in key differences that are outlined below:

  • Household Demographics: The SSS focuses on working households so the population sample includes only those households with at least one working adult age 18-65, not those headed by an elderly or person with a disability who are not in the workforce. The Standard does calculate the senior measure separately as the Retirement-Adjusted Standard. The HHSB includes all households. In some areas this results in a large difference in the number of households being analyzed.
  • Framework: The SSS is a nuanced measure of income using the lowest costs to cover basic necessities that ensure self-sufficiency, taking into account family composition, ages of children, and geographic differences in costs. “The “minimum” needed takes into account not only cost, but availability within New York City and a basic level of quality. As such it includes realistic costs for housing and quality child care, more nutritious food, and less risky transportation and health care (Pearce, 2014). The HHSB measures the absolute, bare minimum required to live and work at a survival level – and thus in all cases relies on the most conservative estimates. The budgets are far below the minimum needed to live adequately in NYC and is not sustainable over time. This core difference in purpose is reflected in the budget development and data sources identified in the budget categories, including:
    • For child care costs, the SSS calculates a weighted average of home-based and center-based child care reflecting the actual choices being made by parents in NYC; the HHSB uses only the less expensive home-based child care.
    • For food costs, the SSS uses the USDA’s Low-Cost Food Plan that provides resources sufficient to maintain adequate nutrition over the longer term; the HHSB relies on the Thrifty Food Plan (lowest of four levels), which is meant for emergency use only. Nutrition studies have found that upwards of 30% of people could meet their recommended nutrition needs on the Low-Cost Food Plan, whereas, only 9% could do so on the Thrifty Food Plan.
    • For housing costs, the SSS estimates the cost for a one-bedroom apartment for a single person or a married couple without children, a two-bedroom apartment for a family with one or two children, and a three-bedroom home for a family with three children based on HUD rules for public and subsidized housing. The HHSB estimates costs for an efficiency for a single person, a one-bedroom apartment for a single parent with one child, and a two-bedroom apartment for a family of three or four.
    • For health care costs, the SSS reports the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance and out-of-pocket health care expenses; the HHSB reflects the cost of out-of-pocket health care expenses and the 2014 Affordable Care Act’s penalty, but not costs of health insurance.
  • Rigorous Methodology: In all budget categories, SSS uses more detailed data and analytic methods to create an accurate and nuanced measure of need. It builds budgets from scratch for a comprehensive set of 472 family types by county. The SSS and the HHSB both include estimates of the share of households with income too low to afford basic necessities at the individual household level and the county level respectively. The SSS method is laborious and precise, first calculating over 400 budgets for each geographic area to reflect varying household composition (number of adults, number and age of children, with child age divided into 4 ages including infant, preschooler, school-age, & teenager). Then each household type is coded to the standard for their family type, and evaluated to see if their income is above or below the standard. To determine how many ALICE households there are in New York, the ALICE Report uses the county as the basic unit of analysis with the average, not actual, household size providing a local degree of accuracy. ALICE first calculates the income for all households and for those that earn below the ALICE Threshold in two categories and then adjusts for average household size for the whole county. The average budgets are then rounded to the American Community Survey estimates for household income in several categories. From this, the number of households with income below the Federal Poverty Level, as calculated by the American Community Survey, is subtracted. The result is a rough and inexact number of ALICE households.
  • Geographic and Household Variation: In a city as geographically and economically diverse as NYC, we know that what it takes to become self-sufficient depends on where a family lives, how many people are in the family, and the number and ages of children. SSS provides budgets that account for difference not only in geographic variation on the sub-county level—in Brooklyn and Manhattan to account for intra-county variation—but also by family composition. The HHSB covers all counties in the state, but does not provide budgets broken down for NYC at the county level.

For more information on The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York City please download a copy of the key findings or full report at: http://www.unitedwaynyc.org/pages/sssr2014.

Sources:
ALICE Household Survival Budget, 2014. http://www.unitedwayalice.org/reports.php
Pearce, Diana, “Overlooked And Undercounted: The Struggle To Make Ends Meet In New York City,” United Way of New York City, 2014.
http://action.unitedwaynyc.org/page/-/downloads/reports/2014_sssr_long.pdf