Re­port shows stark data on county’s work­ing poor

County has high level of low in­come work­ers

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

Much of the work­ing poor in South­ern Mary- land are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ships in th­ese tough eco­nomic times. Ac­cord­ing to the United Way, 35 per­cent of Mary­land house­holds strug­gle to af­ford ba­sic house­hold ne­ces­si­ties.

The United Way re­cently used a series of stan­dard­ized mea­sure­ments called the ALICE — As­set Lim­ited In­come Con­strained Em­ployed — re­port to pro­vide an in­depth look at coun­ty­wide

poverty and pre­sented its data dur­ing a we­bi­nar on Jan. 9. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, 25 per­cent of peo­ple in Charles County are ALICE, while 7 per­cent of Charles County res­i­dents are al­ready liv­ing in poverty.

ALICE is a United Way acro­nym which rep­re­sents the grow­ing num­ber of in- di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who are work­ing, but still un- able to af­ford the ba­sic ne- ces­si­ties of hous­ing, food, child care, health care or trans­porta­tion.

“United Way came to­gether to give an iden­tity and voice to peo­ple who work ev­ery day, yet strug­gle to make ends meet,” said Franklyn Bak- er, pres­i­dent and CEO of United Way of Cen­tral Mary­land. “We all know ALICE. ALICE is the hard-worker who waits on our table, fixes our car, rings us up at the gro­cer y store and cares for our el­derly and young. AL- ICE earns more than the fed­eral poverty level but not quite enough to keep pace with the cost of liv- ing, and faces tough fi­nan­cial choices. While liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, one emer­gency can spi­ral into cri­sis for ALICE.”

The ALICE num­bers through­out the county in­clude Wal­dorf at 34 per- cent; Cobb Is­land at 40 per­cent; Bryan­town at 45 per­cent; In­dian Head at 46 per­cent; and Bryans Road at 37 per­cent. Mike Bel­lis, the lo­cal United Way ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said those are the peo­ple who are work­ing ev­ery day, not get­ting ahead, and not liv­ing the “Amer- ican dream.”

Dr. Stephanie Hoopes, lead re­searcher and direc- tor of the United Way AL- ICE project, has used the re­port to more ac­cu­rately mea­sure fi­nan­cial hard­ship in states across the coun­try like New Jersey, Ohio and Florida. With cashiers and re­tail work­ers be­ing two of the top oc­cu­pa­tions in the state, she be­lieves that jobs play a ma­jor role in the data out­come.

“We mea­sure the ba­sic costs to live and work in a mod­ern econ­omy in the state of Mary­land, specif­i­cally by county. I hope by look­ing at this list of data oth­ers will think about the ALICEs that they know. Th­ese are re­ally peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ties that are es­sen­tial to the func­tion of the econ­omy. In terms of per­cent of house­holds be­low the ALICE thresh­old, Mar yland is No. 3, be­hind Iowa and Wash­ing­ton,” Hoopes said.

The Eco­nomic Vi­a­bili- ty Dash­board eval­u­ates com­mu­nity con­di­tions for ALICE in three core ar­eas, on a scale of one (worse) to 100 (bet­ter). Charles County re­ceived a 31 (poor) in hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity, 56 (good) in job op­por­tu­ni­ties, and 61 (good) in com­mu­nity re­sources.

The United Way of Charles County is try­ing to get ahead of the situa- tion. Bel­lis said the orga- niza­tion plans to sta­bi­lize ALICE fam­i­lies through pro­gram­ming out­reach and ser­vices in or­der to see a longterm, sys­temic change.

“Our score for hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity is not only a poor score but it is also the low­est score in the state of Mary­land. We have a lot of work to do and we can no longer talk about the prob­lem or have anec­do­tal con­versa- tion about the prob­lem,” Bel­lis said. “It’s clear that we’re com­ing in last and we have a lot of work to do on both pro­gram­matic and pol­icy stand­point to en­sure that peo­ple have a fair and eq­ui­table ac­cess to af­ford­able hous­ing.”

Gil­bert Bowl­ing, chair- man of the United Way of Charles County board of di­rec­tors, said it was star- tling to see that Charles County was ranked the low­est in Mary­land in the area of hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity. He said it is no co­in­ci­dence that three of the five ar­eas that have the high­est ALICE num­bers are ma­jor ar­eas in the western part of the coun- ty, which is an area pretty po­lar­ized as far as jobs and eco­nomic growth.

“I be­lieve real pol­icy change and jobs is what’s go­ing to bring us out of this. It’s great that we can do so many won­der­ful things — have parks and trails — but if our peo­ple in this county can’t af­ford to take off of work to en­joy the ameni­ties that we pro­vide, then what are we re­ally do­ing? We need to find bet­ter ways to help them make a bet­ter liv- ing,” Bowl­ing said.

Ac­cord­ing to United Way, there are so many ALICE house­holds in Mary­land be­cause lowwage jobs dom­i­nate the state’s econ­omy, the ba- sic cost of liv­ing out­paces wages and jobs are not lo­cated near af­ford­able hous­ing. Though pub­lic and pri­vate as­sis­tance helps, it doesn’t pro­vide fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity.

“The house­hold survival bud­get also stood out to me,” Bel­lis said. “Our an­nual to­tal for a fam­ily of four with one in­fant and one preschooler is $74,688. That is third high­est score in the state of Mary­land. Peo­ple are be­ing priced out of liv­ing in Charles County and we are tied with Calvert County for be­ing ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive to live in. A sin­gle adult needs $31,536 to sur­vive. There’s not a lot of op­por­tu­nity for fam­i­lies to get ahead.”

The United Way of Charles County plans to use the re­ports as the frame­work to im­prove and strengthen the lives of ALICE fam­i­lies in the county, with ad­di­tional help from com­mu­nity part­ners, grants and an out­reach spe­cial­ist be­ing brought on staff.

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