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Editorial: ALICE data should be considered in long-term planning

Are you an ALICE or do you know someone who is? Chances are, you interact with an ALICE — or two, or three — every day, even if you aren't one yourself.

What's an ALICE? It's an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed that the United Way has developed to describe people who are well above the federal poverty line, yet struggle to afford some of the basics in life. The barista at your favorite coffee shop, your child's day care provider and your auto mechanic might be ALICEs. You or your co-workers might be.

The United Way's research indicates that more than one-third of Maryland households (about 750,000 families) and about a quarter of Carroll County households (about 16,000 families) would fit the ALICE definition. The designation is different than the federal poverty level, which doesn't consider cost of living. The ALICE report considers the cost of living in the state and each Maryland county, to present a more accurate take on how much income is needed to get by.

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While the United Way isn't advocating for anything to specifically be done with this information, we think it's a useful tool to have as county government and organizations plan for the future of Carroll.

For Carroll, the ALICE Survival Budget, or the amount of money needed annually just to break even without having an emergency budget or savings is $25,344 for a single adult, twice the federal poverty level of $11,880; $39,468 for a single parent with one child; and $62,568 for a family of four. Add in child care, and that last number jumps to $68,520.

In order to begin building some monetary cushion — designated as the ALICE Stability Budget — in case of an automobile crash or repair that could cost someone their transportation, or a medical emergency, for example, those numbers jump to $37,044 for a single adult, $73,680 for a single adult with one child and $115,788 for a family of four.

For perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2015 per capita income for Carroll County to be $36,936 and the median household income is $85,385.

These numbers, and the accompanying situations, go hand-in-hand with what we've heard anecdotally from some of the county's nonprofit leaders for years. Many people who were gainfully employed would use services such as food banks and charities that offer free or reduced-price clothing to make ends meet, and programs like those supported by Human Services Programs that help homeowners pay electric bills or make rent.

It also reflects the need for many of the things the county commissioners referenced in the State of the County address earlier this month. Things like attainable housing, not just to draw new people to the area, but also to keep our sons and daughters living where they grew up rather than moving to Pennsylvania so they aren't struggling. Or more businesses and employment centers that pay a good wage for Carroll residents to work, rather than traveling to Baltimore, Howard County or Washington, D.C., for a better paycheck. And more reliable public transportation, including additional fixed routes offered by the county's transit service to get people to those jobs so they aren't as reliant on personal vehicles.

A lot of effort went into putting this data together, and we think it's enlightening information that our elected officials should consider when making decisions about the long-term future of Carroll County.



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