Updated Pierce County Poverty Report

Updated Pierce County Poverty Report Reveals Continual Struggle for Low-income Working Families as Cost of Living Increases 
Despite lower unemployment, lagging wages working families are hit hard

(TACOMA) Two years ago, United Ways of the Pacific Northwest first introduced ALICE in our state. ALICE is a United Way acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed - hard working people who still struggle to make ends meet. Ever since, United Ways have been working to "put a face on ALICE" and to lead efforts to help ALICE families achieve financial security in our communities.

ALICE is a large population of residents who have incomes above the Federal Poverty Level but below the cost of living threshold. ALICE is employed, but has difficulty affording the basic necessities of housing, food, childcare, health care and transportation.

The ALICE Project is a grassroots movement that seeks to redefine financial hardship in the U.S. by providing comprehensive, unbiased data to help inform policy solutions at all branches of government and in business, academia and nonprofit organizations. Launched by the United Way of Northern New Jersey at the start of the Great Recession, the research is being embraced by United Ways in 18 states, with more expected to join next year. United Ways and partners are using the data to develop policies, allocate resources and address community needs.

“Despite seemingly positive economic signs, the ALICE data shows that financial hardship is still a pervasive problem,” said Project Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., who leads the data analysis.

“This research dispels long-standing myths about financial instability by showing that ALICE families exist in every community and among all ages, races and ethnicities,” Hoopes added.

The new Washington statewide ALICE Update Report indicates that 28% of households in Washington are now on a financial tightrope – and in Pierce County 31% are struggling. The new report calculates an updated "Household Survival Budget" specific to our county, which amounts to $25,007 for single adults and $72,324 for two adults, one infant and one preschooler.

According to Dona Ponepinto, CEO of United Way and a member of the Governor’s Poverty Reduction Work Group, “The cost of living continues to increase and the Household Survival Budget reflects the bare minimum that a household needs to live and work today. That does not include savings for emergencies or future goals like college.”

“Last year we set a bold goal to lift 15,000 households out of poverty by 2028. This has informed our work to focus on two key strategies. We are ensuring people have access to basic needs through South Sound 2-1-1. This helps them stabilize and move into self-sufficiency. Our Center for Strong Families reaches people in low- income neighborhoods so they can get and keep better paying jobs and improve long-term economic mobility.”

In 2016, costs were well above the Federal Poverty Level of $11,880 for a single adult and $24,300 for a family of four. Family costs increased by 28 percent statewide from 2010 to 2016, compared to 9 percent inflation nationally.

Ponepinto explained that the way we live is changing. There are so many different family and living combinations than ever before-- including more people living alone, with roommates and more adult children living with parents. Families with children are changing because there are more blended families with remarried parents, more non-married cohabiting parents, and more same-sex parents. The number of senior households is also increasing.



“Yet all types of households continue to struggle. There are ALICE and poverty-level households across all of these living arrangements so paying attention to what people need includes respect for diversity, equity and inclusion,” notes Ponepinto.

Employment and wages vary by location and firm size, but across the state, more than half of newly hired workers earn less than the cost of the family Household Survival Budget. Small firms (<50 employees) often drive economic growth but their wages tend to be lower, especially in rural areas where they are the largest employers. Large firms (500+ employees) offer higher wages but are concentrated in cities, where the cost of living is also higher. Medium-size firms (50-500 employees) pay more but employ the fewest workers.

The Household Survival Budget includes:

  • Housing: HUD’s Fair Market Rent (40th percentile)
  • Child Care: Registered Family Child Care Homes
  • Food: Thrifty Level (lowest of four levels) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Plans – with regional variation
  • Transportation: Car expenses include gas and motor oil and other vehicle maintenance expenses from Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES)
  • Health Care: nominal out-of-pocket health care spending, medical services, prescription drugs from Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES)
  • Technology: smart phone using Consumer Reports “Best Low-Cost Cell-Phone Plans”  
  • Miscellaneous: 10 percent of the total (including taxes) to cover cost overruns

“The goal of the ALICE Report is to share this information consistently so that over time, it can become the standard measure used by nonprofit, government, business and academic institutions to define financial insecurity. We’d like to change the common vernacular from “working poor” to “ALICE”. We hope this will shift the public policy agenda from poverty and amelioration to ALICE and systemic change so that all families can meet their basic needs and we want to recognize the value of all jobs by ensuring that all those who work to keep our local economies running can support their families,” adds Ponepinto.

About the United Way ALICE Project

The United Way ALICE Project is a collaboration of United Ways in Connecticut, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. The Project has developed standardized measurements that provide a comprehensive look at financial hardship across the U.S. With this data, Project members work to stimulate a fresh, nonpartisan dialogue across the country about the importance and fragility of working families living paycheck to paycheck.


About United Way: United Way of Pierce County has a bold goal to lift 15,000 households out of poverty and into financial stability by 2028. We will achieve this by mobilizing local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals, to make a long-term measurable difference in our community. Together, we are creating a stronger community. To learn more or to join our fight against poverty in Pierce County, visit www.uwpc.org.

Media Contact: Katherine Ransom, Vice President, Marketing & Communications    Telephone: 253.284.2549 E-mail: katheriner@uwpc.org