ALICE Workers Were Celebrated as Essential Heroes During Covid-19, Yet They Do Not Earn Enough to Support Their Families


There are dueling storylines about America’s workers in recent headlines, and both are true.  Inflation has cooled, unemployment is low, and wages have grown. In contrast, 5 million  households are behind on rent and 401K hardship withdrawals rose 36%. 

There are two starkly different economic realities in America. One in which middle – and high wage workers saw savings and wealth increase throughout the pandemic. And another for  those working in low-income jobs, whose wages stagnated over 15 years. These essential  workers were locked out of the economic booms and are still reeling from another battering  sustained during the pandemic. 

As we celebrate America’s workers this Labor Day, we at United Way of Long Island ask leaders  from the boardroom to the statehouse to join us in using our ALICE data to drive innovative  solutions and on-the-ground impact needed to create change for these low-wage workers we  call ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed)

Recognizing ALICE Workers

ALICE workers were recognized for their heroics during the pandemic, yet they continue to  struggle to afford the basics for their families. Their storyline hasn’t improved. ALICE workers  were always living here and delivering for us – as our childcare professionals, home health aides  and delivery workers. Though they earn above the Federal Poverty Level, their wages are not  enough to cover the rising costs of housing, food, childcare, health care, and transportation – the essentials needed in today’s modern economy.  

The outdated and incomplete measurements our country uses to document financial hardship  have distorted how we understand the challenges facing these hardworking neighbors as they  strive for financial stability. 

The poverty level vastly underestimates how many households are experiencing hardship. New  York State’s latest ALICE report, produced with our research partner United For ALICE,  demonstrates that 3,316,600 million households – 45 percent, more than four in ten – are  walking a financial tightrope, unable to afford this state’s high cost of living. 

A key contributor to the number of ALICE households in New York is the fundamental mismatch  between the cost of living and what jobs pay. For example, 47% of Personal Care Aides (the most common occupation in New York) were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021.

On Long Island, 130,599 households in Nassau County and 171,921 households in Suffolk  County are struggling to afford these fundamental needs. This means that 31.5% or 302,520 of  Long Island households fall below the set income ALICE Threshold budget for survival. 

These families don’t qualify for federal assistance and can find themselves needing help from  organizations like United Way of Long Island to recover from an unexpected cost or emergency situation. 

Other 2023 ALICE Report key findings: 

  • In Nassau County, the Household Survival Budget is $76,932 or $38.47/hour for a home with two adults and two school-age children.
  • In Suffolk County, the Household Survival Budget is $79,668 or $39.83/hour for a home with two adults and two school-age children.
  • 51% percent of all jobs in NYS pay less than $20/hour or $40,000 annually for full time  work. Even working multiple jobs often does not provide sufficient income to meet the  ALICE threshold. 

The ALICE Report raises awareness about a significant but hidden segment of community  members. They work hard for the wages they earn but are falling short of covering life’s basic  costs. It also underscores how essential ALICE is to our communities’ economic well-being and  when ALICE is forced to make difficult choices, the entire community faces consequences. 

United Way of Long Island is showing up for ALICE, filling some resource gaps and offering 211  Long Island for confidential information and referrals related to support services but we alone  cannot bring ALICE households to financial stability. We invite you to discover more about  United Way’s positive, enduring impact and join our giving community by visiting  www.unitedwayli.org.  

If we are united in purpose for our essential workers, together we can write a new storyline  that puts financial stability in reach for ALICE, improving life for all Long Islanders. 

And there’s no better way to celebrate Long Island’s workforce than that.  

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