Pandemic Impact: More Households Financially Insecure
New ALICE Report shows pandemic aids temporarily blunted the financial crisis, yet warning signs are on the horizon
The number of Virginia households unable to make ends meet grew by more than 36,000 during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a total of 1,249,732 households or 38% of Virginia households struggling to afford the basics by 2021, according to a new report from United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley and its research partner United For ALICE.
That calculation includes 338,028 households in poverty as well as another 911,704 families defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy. ALICE families have been overlooked and undercounted by traditional poverty measures. ALICE is the nation’s child care workers, home health aides and cashiers heralded during the pandemic – those working low wage jobs, with little or no savings and one emergency from poverty.
Virginia ranked 13th in financial hardship among all 50 states when it came to the percentage of households struggling to make ends meet in 2021.
ALICE in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship in Virginia shows that the total number of financially insecure households in the Northern Shenandoah Valley rose by about four percent. In the region which covers the City of Winchester, Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Page and Warren Counties: 8,591 families or 9% of households lived in poverty in 2021, while almost 30,000 additional families – 32% of region’s population lived below the ALICE threshold. That’s a total of 41% of families struggling to make ends meet. From 2019-2021, the number of families in poverty increased slightly, just 344 households, while the number of households defined as ALICE increased by 4,465.
The City of Winchester ranks the highest in our region when it comes to the number of households living below the ALICE threshold. In 2021, 13% of families lived below the Federal Poverty Level while 36% were ALICE, for a total of 49% of families in the City struggling to make ends meet each month. Page County had 45% of families below the ALICE threshold. Shenandoah and Warren Counties came in at 40%, and Frederick and Clarke Counties at 39%. The communities that saw the largest increases since 2019 were Frederick (6% increase) and Warren (8% increase).
While job disruptions and inflation delivered significant financial pain, a combination of pandemic supports and rising wages did help to blunt what could have been a deeper financial crisis, the report finds. However, as some benefits are peeled back, and inflation persists, signs of greater financial stress are on the horizon.
“It could have been so much worse for these families, whose struggle to feed their families, afford health care and access quality education that was often hidden in plain sight until the pandemic,” said United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley CEO Kaycee Childress. “Equipped with the ALICE name and data, we can do even better to develop effective policies and track our progress toward reducing financial hardship in our community. We have an opportunity to build on what was learned during the pandemic as ALICE continues to face economic uncertainty.”
According to the report, for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the annual ALICE Household Survival Budget, which is the basic cost needed to live and work in Virginia, was $84,792 in 2021. The Child Tax Credit and Child Dependent Care Tax Credit helped to soften the blow, providing almost $20,000 in relief. Even with the variety of temporary pandemic supports available, in 2021, a family of four with two-full time workers earning salaries as a retail salesperson and a cashier – two of the most common occupations in Virginia – saw their income still fall short of the Household Survival Budget by almost $13,000.
“Throughout the pandemic, government supports like tax credits, stimulus payments and rental assistance provided strong relief to ALICE households,” said Jennifer Hall, Senior Director of Community Investment at United Way NSV. “However, as these supports have come to an end, growing food insecurities and other indicators such as the increased need for financial assistance reveal continued stress. Ignoring these warning signs places ALICE, our economy and the well-being of our communities at great risk.”
Additional report insights include:
• Racial disparities persist in the rates of financial hardship; 52% of Black and 44% of Hispanic households were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021, compared to 34% of white households.
• Single-parent households had among the highest rates of hardship. 72% – of single-female-headed households and 55% of single-male-headed households in Virginia struggled to make ends meet in 2021.
• In 2021, 60% of the 20 most common jobs in Virginia paid less than $20 per hour. Earning less than $20 hourly was not enough to support a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, even with two parents earning this salary.
• In Federal Reserve surveys, the percentage of respondents who were either ALICE or in poverty reported having emergency savings was 44% in November 2021. Meanwhile, 79% of survey respondents with incomes above the ALICE threshold reported having a rainy-day fund.
To read the report and access online, interactive dashboards that provide data on financial hardship at the state, county and local level, visit https://www.unitedwaynsv.org/alice.
About United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley: Since 1946 the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley has worked to impact the community human care needs that matter most to the people of Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Page and Warren Counties and the City of Winchester. United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley convenes the people and organizations necessary to create solutions to our region’s most pressing challenges and collaborates with effective partners. United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley seeks to serve as the catalyst for community change by supporting over 35 partner agencies in the area on Income, Health and Education. For more information, visit our website www.unitedwaynsv.org. Follow us on Twitter @UWNSV.
About United For ALICE: United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, research and action to improve life across the country for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and for all. Through the development of the ALICE measurements, a comprehensive, unbiased picture of financial hardship has emerged. Harnessing this data and research on the mismatch between low-paying jobs and the cost of survival, ALICE partners convene, advocate and collaborate on solutions that promote financial stability at local, state and national levels. This grassroots ALICE movement, led by United Way of Northern New Jersey, has spread to 27 states and includes United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit: UnitedForALICE.org.