It may not surprise UWLES supporters that many Lower Shore households are struggling to make ends meet, but they will find plenty to reflect upon in the new Maryland ALICE Report and Maryland Benefits Cliff Study, released in 2020. These reports provide detailed data regarding the impacts of economic hardship on local households, and strategies to help them reach financial stability.
ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This refers to households that have income placing them above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but still struggle to afford basic essentials including housing, transportation, healthcare, childcare and limited other essentials.
In the four Lower Shore Counties-Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester--an average of 46% of households are either considered ALICE or in poverty, well above the Maryland state average of 39%. Somerset County has the highest percentage of struggling households in the state at 57%. These statistics are based on 2018 data; the pressures created by the pandemic have no doubt pushed more households towards financial instability and into the ALICE or poverty thresholds. The research also demonstrates that African American households are disproportionately represented as being ALICE or in poverty; 50% of African American households in Maryland fall into these categories, compared to the 39% overall state average.
An exciting feature of this most recent ALICE Report is a new set of online data tools. The tools include a mapping feature that provides information on the number of households in poverty and considered ALICE, at the county and subdivision levels. Budget information for a multitude of household types, including seniors, is also newly available through the online tool.
While the 2020 ALICE Report represents the third iteration of the report for Maryland, the new Benefits Cliff Study is a first for the state. The benefits cliff describes the phenomenon in which small increases in earned income result in a disproportionate loss of public program benefits, leaving households with fewer resources despite earning more. ALICE households are significantly impacted by the benefits cliff.
The issues described in both reports highlight the critical nature of the work being done by UWLES and our partner agencies. Local nonprofits addressing food insecurity, housing, workforce development, and more need support to continue their work, especially as the pandemic creates challenges to traditional fundraising. The generosity of UWLES donors provides needed resources for local nonprofits to continue adapting. Supporting nonprofits creates a positive impact for households facing the challenges of ALICE and poverty. The Maryland ALICE® Report and Benefits Cliff Study are supported by fourteen United Ways in the state, and a number of generous sponsors including Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore and BEACON at Salisbury University. Both reports, including the county reports for the Lower Shore and links to additional data sources and online tools, are available for free download, and can be found at www.uwles.org/ALICE.