Even with two adults in the household working, large numbers of Volusia County families — about 45 percent — are struggling to afford housing, food and health care.
For families of color, especially in the Deltona area, the situation is worse. Nearly 90 percent of Black families in Southwest Volusia can’t afford the essentials. In the same region, around 60 percent of white and Hispanic families are struggling, too.
These are your car mechanic, the grocery cashier, the server at the restaurant — maybe even the nurse at your doctor’s office.
The grim look at Volusia County’s economic realities comes from the United Way of Volusia/Flagler’s latest ALICE report.
Who is ALICE?
ALICE refers to people who are “asset limited, income constrained, employed,” otherwise referred to as the working poor.
Of people under the ALICE threshold in Florida, some 13 percent fall below the federal poverty line.
The United Way refers to essentials that impact the cost of living as the “survival budget,” and it includes expenses like taxes, health care, housing, transportation and food.
In 2018, the ALICE report estimated the survival budget for a family of four at around $6,000 a month. Because of rising costs, that figure is no doubt higher in 2022.
For a family of four that includes two adults, the ALICE threshold is around $60,000 annually.
ALICE, a term coined by the United Way, stands for “asset limited, income constrained, employed.” Although ALICE households may be living above the federal poverty line, they are still struggling to afford the basics.
“Essentially what it means is our community’s working poor,” United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties President Courtney Edgcomb told The Beacon. “They might have a car, own their own home, they have assets of their own. They, however, are not making enough to survive in this community.”
ALICE families may have household incomes that once seemed like plenty. The ALICE threshold for a family of four with two working adults, for example, is about $60,000. But inflation and rising housing costs have rendered that inadequate.
The report shows just how dire the affordable-housing crisis is, and makes plain the wealth inequality across racial lines, along with other insights.
“This is all really depressing data, and I’m sorry I have to be the bearer of bad news to everybody,” Edgcomb said. “But I want us to focus on what we can do to make things better for people.”
An example is spreading the word about programs to help the working poor, like SNAP, or food stamps. The latest ALICE report notes that more than half of all families not participating in SNAP fall under the ALICE threshold.
Another fix could involve questioning policies that might hold some families back.
“Families of color are having a harder time finding employment that is going to pay them enough to survive in our community,” Edgcomb said. “So it would behoove us to consider what our HR practices are in our businesses, to see if we are creating opportunities for them to thrive, or if we have practices that would be a hindrance to that.”
In addition to families of color, other families affected disproportionately are those with at least one infant, and families with at least one household member who has a disability.
But even in households without infants or disabled family members, nearly 50 percent of southwest Volusia families with two working adults still fell under the ALICE threshold. In northwest Volusia, that figure was closer to 40-percent.
The data in the latest ALICE report is from 2019. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic, worker shortages and inflation have no doubt made things even worse.
“The inflation that we’re experiencing is only going to make this data worse in our community,” Edgcomb said, “because it’s driving the cost of everything up for families and requiring them to come up with other solutions.”
Worker shortages have caused employers to offer bonuses to new hires, for example, devaluing the wages of longtime employees who have gone years without a raise.
“What we’re finding is that therapists, grocery-store workers, nurses and all kinds of other positions, they’re adversely affected by that,” she said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we can continue to have nurses. What’s the doctor gonna do if they don’t have a nurse there?”
The housing challenges faced by ALICE families are complex, with no easy solutions.
In Florida, Edgcomb said, 61 percent of ALICE families are considered “rent-burdened,” which means they are spending 35 percent or more of their monthly income on rent or a mortgage. The scenario is much worse in Volusia and Flagler counties.
“In our five regions that we’re looking at in this data, 96, 100 percent of our ALICE families are rent-burdened,” Edgcomb said. “There’s clearly an affordable-housing issue here.”
The five regions are Central Volusia and Flagler (comprising mostly Flagler County), Northeast Volusia (including Holly Hill and Ormond Beach), Southeast Volusia (Port Orange, Edgewater, Holly Hill), Northwest Volusia (including Pierson, DeLeon Springs, DeLand), and Southwest Volusia (including DeBary, Deltona, Lake Helen and more).
If there’s any good news in the ALICE report, it may be that racial disparities are less for families in the Northwest Volusia region, where a little more than 50 percent of white families fall under the ALICE threshold, while nearly 60 percent of Hispanic families and just under 30 percent of Black families do.
Northwest Volusia has the lowest rate of Black families under the ALICE threshold in the entire county.
Rutgers University assists the United Way in creating the ALICE reports, using census data. This new report is the first of three expected in 2022. While later reports will focus on families that include a member with a disability, and families that include at least one veteran, this report focuses on all families with at least one child under the age of 17 living in the home.
Edgcomb will participate in a webinar noon-1 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, to present more details about the latest ALICE report. To register, visit https://conta.cc/3MEPERO.
For more information, contact Vice President of Operations Amanda Lasecki at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other programs that can help
The United Way’s Edgcomb encouraged people to take advantage of programs available to them, including: