More than half of Anderson County residents struggle to make ends meet, regardless of their employment status, says a new report from the United Way.
The Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) report for Texas, released today, shows 58 percent of the county's residents could not regularly afford basic needs, such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology.
The ALICE report focuses on residents who work at low paying jobs, have little-to-no savings, and are often one emergency from falling into poverty.
“There is a basic belief in Texas that if you work hard, you can support yourself and your family,” said Adrianna Rojas, president and CEO of United Ways of Texas. “The Texas ALICE report shows that. for more than 4 million households in Texas, this is not the case: One setback, one car repair, one natural disaster, or even a minor illness may escalate quickly and leave a family vulnerable.”
No one needs to tell Anderson County resident Maria Shepherd. Despite her full-time job at Walmart, she and her two children need government aid to survive. Her family receives the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps. Her two children are on Medicaid.
Shepherd, 35, said she makes well below the $53,000 figured in the ALICE report. Her family helps when they can, she said, but many of them are in similar financial straits.
“I am on payment plans on my bills, and we still barely get by,” she told the Herald-Press Monday. “We don't get to do things regular families do all the time, but we manage. By the grace of God, we make it every month.”
Texas is the 18th state to receive an ALICE report. United Way officials said they hope business leaders, government leaders, and change-makers will use the report to help their communities find ways to help those who are working, yet still straining to afford basic necessities.
“All states, counties, and local municipalities that have received an ALICE report have used the data we provide,” said Stephanie Hoopes, founder and director of the national ALICE project. “They recognize the federal poverty level, established 50 years ago, does not take into account cost-of-living, or changes in family needs.”
Among the changes prompted by the ALICE report: Higher rates for child-care vouchers and new workforce policies and initiatives.
“Child care is easily the highest expenditure for most families,” Hoopes said. “Plus, some companies, both big and small, have begun to realize that a good deal of their employees, as well as their customers, are below the ALICE threshold, and they've begun to implement changes.”
The poverty rate in Anderson County is 15 percent. This includes single-person households earning $11,800 or less, and family households earning $24,300 or less. United Way officials, however, said this is an outdated calculation, and no longer provides an accurate representation of the number of people who regularly face hardship.
The United Way instead created a “household survival budget” for each state. The budgets estimate a family of four in Texas would need nearly $53,000 a year to survive. A single-person household is calculated at roughly $19,500.
In Anderson County, 43 percent of households fall short of these earnings.
Gayle Cooper, director of the Palestine Economic Development Corporation, said the city is taking steps to fix the problems of the working poor.
“Although we are employed at 97 percent [in Palestine], we know we have a lot of underemployed people who don't make a living wage,” Cooper told the Herald-Press. “We've recently formed a workforce development committee., We hope to make some inroads in this area, and provide workers with better skills.”
Palestine Mayor Steve Presley, who brought the issue of underemployment among city residents before the City Council last summer, said the problem was apparent during “Operation Read,” which provides free books to elementary students.
“There were a number of students whose families fell beneath the poverty level,” he said. “The city is working hard to improve the workforce and the lives of its residents.”
For the full Texas ALICE report, go to: https://www.unitedwayalice.org/by-state