A United Way study of the working poor released Wednesday shows that 38 percent of Maryland families — and nearly half of those in Baltimore — cannot afford basic necessities, such as housing, transportation, food and child care.
The nonprofit’s analysis shows that a family of four in Maryland needs $69,672 to support a “survival budget.” Half of all jobs pay less than $20 per hour, according to the analysis, with an increase in “gig” and contractual jobs contributing to less financial stability.
Franklyn Baker, president of the United Way of Central Maryland, said the study puts a spotlight on the challenges for families that have incomes above the federal poverty line but not enough money to afford the things they need. The ALICE report — which stands for a population that is Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — is replicated by the organization in 18 states, drawing on 2016 data. Basic needs, as defined by United Way, include housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and a smartphone for each adult in the family.
“This really highlights that, though the economy is certainly improving, there is still a segment of our society that continues to struggle to make ends meet,” Baker said, adding that the report will spark dialogue on policy solutions, such as making the earned income tax more generous or investing more in public transportation. The organization does not endorse specific solutions.
Auna Cooper, a lead case manager at several of United Way’s family stability centers, works directly with families stuck with limited income and rising costs of living. She said the centers exist to help the families fend off whatever crisis they’re faced with — eviction, a utility turn-off notice, not enough food — and work through plans to stabilize their lives from money management to workforce development.
Often, she said, their hardships stem from low pay, leaving them one late bus ride or one sick child away from losing their jobs, and their grip. The report provides data to back up their experiences, she said.
“They don’t have the wiggle room that’s necessary if something comes up,” Cooper said. “They can’t afford to be off of work, because a lot of times, they’re living paycheck to paycheck.”
The survival budget varies by county in the region. In Anne Arundel County, the analysis shows that a family of four needs to make $82,332 to afford basic necessities; a third of families in the county live on less.
In Baltimore, 47 percent of families make less than $64,392, the amount determined to necessary to afford the bare minimum. The survival budget for Baltimore County was $76,344, with 36 percent of households living below the threshold. It was $78,048 in Carroll County, with 27 percent below the threshold. The amount was $79,080 in Harford County and $85,800 in Howard County, with 33 percent and 26 percent of families, respectively, not earning enough to afford necessities.
The figures are based on a family of four, including two adults, one infant and one preschooler.
The analysis does not factor in benefits that the families may receive that could ease pressure on their budget, such as housing subsidies, child care vouchers, utility credits or food stamps. Baker said adding those variables would not give a uniform standard for measuring the data and comparing the findings between locations.
Jay Hutchins, the acting director of the advocacy group Maryland Working Families, said the findings were not surprising. He said state leaders should adopt a paid family leave program, strengthen workers’ rights and further increase the minimum wage, $10.10 as of July.
“It’s a tale that is often overlooked, given what is perceived to be a booming or robust economy,” Hutchins said. “If you peel back the layers of the onion, and you don’t have to peel that far, there is real need that exists.”