Editorial: Use ALICE data for planning programs, giving

A few years ago, the United Way developed a statistic called ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Essentially, the moniker is to paint a more realistic picture of how many people are struggling to make ends meet in a community, even though they have a good, steady job.

The ALICE report’s household survival budget is different from the federal poverty level, which is the same across the country and does not account for how the cost of living may differ from someone in Carroll County, Maryland versus someone in Los Angeles, California, or Cleveland, Ohio, or even Cumberland, Maryland.


The federal poverty level for 2018 is $12,140 in annual income for a single adult and $25,100 for a family of four. Meanwhile, the latest ALICE household survival report, which uses 2016 data, is $26,052 for a single adult in Maryland and $69,672 for a family of four. In Carroll County, the ALICE figures go up to $28,260 and $78,048, respectively.

The good news for Carroll is that the ALICE numbers are improving from the previous report. While the percentage of households living in poverty has held steady just above 5 percent since 2010, the percentage of households that fall under the ALICE threshold in Carroll dropped to 27 percent from about 30 percent two years earlier.

“In most places, those ALICE numbers are increasing, so Carroll County seeing a decrease is kind of against the trend and is good news for Carroll County,” Stephanie Hoopes, the lead researcher for the United Way’s ALICE report, told us.

Carroll’s unemployment rate may be a key driver of that trend, Hoopes said. It continues to be one of the best in the state, a rate of 4.2 percent in August, according to the latest data from the Maryland Office of Workforce Information & Performance.

But while this is good news compared to our neighbors, it’s a reminder that roughly 1 in every 4 households in Carroll County is feeling the pinch financially and living paycheck to paycheck. Chances are, you interact with someone who falls under the ALICE threshold every day.

Some groups in the county have begun to use the ALICE data to make better informed decisions and policies. For example, Carroll Community College officials recognized that, despite a low poverty rate and a high median household income, finances are still a barrier to some attending school there. So, it has begun offering several new scholarships in the past year using eligibility criteria based on the ALICE report.

For the majority of residents fortunate enough to earn above the ALICE threshold, this data is perhaps something to keep in mind when considering giving to a local nonprofit. While it may not seem like there is as much need in Carroll when considering poverty data, the ALICE data shows there are still many in need. Leaders of local charities like food banks or ones that help out homeowners with high electric bills aren’t just offering assistance to those below the poverty level.

Whether it is leaders of some of these charities or residents who are considering make a donation, we hope that this data is being put to use to paint a clearer picture and have a better understanding of how some Carroll residents are struggling day-to-day.