Springfield, IL - A new United Way report reveals more than a third, 36% of Illinois families struggle to afford the cost of living. The United Way of Illinois released their 2019 data from a national research initiative on the financial struggles for families Wednesday. United For ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) is a grassroots movement with United Way chapters, academic institutions and other state organizations. Illinois United Way leaders say the ALICE study shows much more than poverty, highlighting the decrease in available jobs to support families and affordable housing.
United Way of Illinois Board Chair Sue Grey said ALICE are individuals who are working and have income over the federal poverty level, but often don't qualify for government support programs. Grey explained the proportion of ALICE households has been on the rise in Illinois.
"We all know ALICE. ALICE is the home healthcare worker who helps seniors stay in their homes and live independently. ALICE is the daycare working who looks after our children so we can go to work each day," Grey explained. "ALICE fixes our cars, works at our local grocery or retail stores, and serves dinner at our favorite restaurants."
A need for change
Grey noted these families are doing everything they can to achieve stability and provide for their loved ones, but there is too often no way to manage life without additional support. She said it is critical that changes are made on the state and local levels, "or the number of ALICE households will continue to rise."
With new data in hand, the social service providers are asking lawmakers to focus more on helping the working poor. Lawmakers agree this is a statewide issue that has to be addressed.
"When you're able to have conversations like that with your colleagues and you're able to show data, we're it's not just Terri Bryant saying we got some poor folks, we can show some data that says these are individuals who are working," Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said. "But they just don't make enough or the cost of living is just too high."
Rep. Bryant says lawmakers will likely use this data for background in their debates on how money is distributed across the state. Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford says constantly sees families struggling to get by in her district covering the west side of Chicago and the western suburbs. When it comes to Lightford's district, only 18% of residents fall below the poverty line.
"But I know many more folks that are unable to afford an unexpected car repair or be able to put anything aside for the future," Lightford said. "Those households are much more represented in my district. Over 47% of households in my district are ALICE households."
Both lawmakers explained the General Assembly has to use this data to push for public policy tools like the earn income tax credit and important expansions of early childhood education.
You can read the full report by clicking here.