Pandemic creates crisis for low-wage workers priced out of survival post-Recession
Jackson – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 50% of Mississippi households were already unable to afford household basics, never having recovered from the Great Recession, according to the ALICE Report released Aug. 24 by the Mississippi United Ways Association, in partnership with United For ALICE and with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The ALICE® Report for Mississippi reveals the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to be inaccurate and inadequate in measuring financial hardship. ALICE stands for: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The study places a spotlight on the growing ranks of hardworking residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings and were one emergency away from falling into poverty at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Report uses the latest data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census, to quantify how many households in Mississippi are struggling financially — and why.
In addition to the 210,761 Mississippi households in poverty in 2019, another 340,913 families were ALICE — earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than what it costs to survive. Combined, these struggling households fall below the ALICE Threshold, the average income needed to survive in today’s economy. They grew to account for 50% of Mississippi’s 1.1 million households in 2019, up from 39% in 2007.
“We’ve known that our economy was becoming increasingly reliant on these families we call ALICE, who are financially vulnerable to one emergency. COVID-19 became that one universal emergency,” said United Way of the Capital Area President and CEO Ira Murray, Ph.D. “ALICE was the nursing home worker, grocery store clerk, delivery driver and child care worker who showed up to work during the pandemic despite enormous risk to their personal health, yet they are also the workers who don’t have health insurance, have no paid sick days and aren’t always sure they have enough food to feed their families.”
ALICE workers were locked out of the post-Recession economic boom due to stagnant wages and the rising cost of six essentials — housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and a basic smartphone plan — outpacing inflation. Their inability to establish savings due to meager pay raises and inconsistent job hours, schedules and benefits left them especially vulnerable to the dual economic and health crises of the pandemic.
“When I worked as a sign language interpreter for school districts, I had insurance, but I made less than $30,000 a year,” said Julie Seawright, a Mississippi ALICE in Tupelo, who is married and the mother of two sons. The family has a number of medical issues and makes regular trips to a variety of physicians’ offices. “I make more now working independently, but I don’t have insurance. We pay everything out of pocket. At the end of the month — and sometimes at the end of the week, there isn’t anything left to save.”
The ALICE Report for Mississippi reveals:
ALICE includes people of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities, living in rural, urban and suburban communities, mirroring the state’s basic demographic make-up.
In 2019 in Mississippi, 66% of Black households, 53% of Hispanic households and 40% of White households fell below the ALICE Threshold.
The Mississippi ALICE Report shows that 54% of senior households, 83% of single-female-headed families, and 48% of those headed by someone age 25 to 44 years old could not afford the basics in Mississippi in 2019.
The basic cost of living in Mississippi is well above the FPL, ranging from $21,924 for a single adult, to $24,672 for a single senior, to $55,980 for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler. Meanwhile, the occupation projected to have the largest number of new jobs in Mississippi — cashier — earns a median wage of $9.21 per hour, which is not enough to support any of these budgets.
Jobs paying less than $20 per hour account for 68% of all jobs in Mississippi.
Low-wage jobs, or jobs that cannot support the family Household Survival Budget with two earners, grew by 75% between 2007 and 2019. Meanwhile, the number of high-wage jobs, or jobs that support the family Household Survival Budget with one earner, decreased by 29% during the same period.
The cost of household basics, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and a smartphone plan, rose at an average rate of 3.4% annually nationwide over the past decade. That’s in contrast with an annual rate of inflation of 1.8%.
Households one income bracket above the ALICE Threshold fell into financial hardship following the Recession, growing the ranks of ALICE households. If the same were to happen post-pandemic, the nearly 66,000 Mississippi households just above the Threshold could become ALICE, bringing the number of struggling households up from 50% to 56%.
“This report provides objective data that can inform the state’s pandemic recovery, taking into consideration the lessons learned following the Recession,” said the report’s lead researcher, United For ALICE Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D. “Through no fault of their own, ALICE families were priced out of economic stability, setting the stage for the unprecedented economic impact of the pandemic.”
The ALICE Report for Mississippi was supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and is a project of United For ALICE, a grassroots movement of some 675 United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in 24 states, all using the same methodology to document financial need.
“Oftentimes, we create false narratives that low-income families don’t work. In reality, they are working very hard for very little, and still can’t make ends meet. These are ALICE families,” said Paula Sammons, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “Working families need access to critical work supports like child care assistance and paid sick leave. The country has seen the enormous benefits of these family-centered policies during the pandemic. They are a win-win for families and employers alike and can mean the difference between a thriving economy and life or death.”
To read a copy of the report and find county-by-county and town-level data on the size and demographics of ALICE as well as the community conditions and costs faced by ALICE households, visit MSUnitedWay.org/ALICE.
About the Mississippi United Ways Association
The Mississippi United Ways Association is comprised of 17 regional United Ways throughout the state — organizations who are linchpins in improving the quality of life in the 53 counties they serve. Together, the organizations work to impact education, income and health and to address the essential human needs of individual communities and to tackle challenges that affect the whole state. The Mississippi United Way Association does not have any employees.
About United For ALICE
United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, shining a light on the challenges ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households face and finding collaborative solutions. Through a standardized methodology that assesses the cost of living in every county, this project provides a comprehensive measure of financial hardship across the U.S. Equipped with this data, ALICE partners convene, advocate and innovate in their local communities to highlight the issues faced by ALICE households and to generate solutions that promote financial stability. The grassroots movement represents United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit: UnitedForALICE.org.
About W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special attention is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit wkkf.org.