Record Number of ALICE Families Struggled to Afford Household Essentials as COVID-19 Hit

These families have little to no savings and are most concerned about their ability to afford housing costs

Before COVID-19 hit, almost 1.4 million Pennsylvania households were already one emergency away from financial ruin — a 10-year record high — setting the stage for the unprecedented economic impact of the crisis, according to the latest ALICE® Report, released today by United Way of Pennsylvania. ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, is an initiative of the Pennsylvania network of United Ways to raise awareness of the challenges faced by working families and to mobilize organizations and individuals who want to support strategies and policies that support ALICE along their journey to financial stability.

“Some workers from families we call ALICE have been the heroes of this pandemic, keeping grocery stores stocked, taking care of children at child care, or providing home health aide support for the elderly or people with disabilities,” said Kristen Rotz, President of United Way of Pennsylvania. “Other ALICE workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry experienced the emergency that can tip the household budget from just scraping by to being unable to pay their bills.”

The updated data within ALICE in Pennsylvania: A Financial Hardship Study show that over the last decade, Pennsylvania’s low- and middle- income working families lost buying power as increases to the costs of essentials, such as housing and healthcare, outpaced wage increases. This caused the number of ALICE households to rise a substantial 35 percent between 2007 and 2018. The number of ALICE households grew to account for 27 percent of Pennsylvania households in 2018, which is up from 21 percent in 2007. The number of impoverished households remained largely flat at about 13 percent of PA’s total households.

This caused the number of ALICE households to rise a substantial 35 percent between 2007 and 2018. The number of ALICE households grew to account for 27 percent of Pennsylvania households in 2018, which is up from 21 percent in 2007.

The statewide average annual cost of survival in 2018 ranged from $23,544 for a single adult, to $26,436 for a senior citizen and $69,648 for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler. The median hourly wage for a retail salesperson, the most common occupation in Pennsylvania in 2018, was $11.08, or $22,160 per year.

“No matter how hard ALICE families worked over the last decade, the gap between their wages and the cost of basics kept widening. These already fragile ALICE households are now facing an even deeper financial hole due to COVID-19,” Rotz said.

United Way also conducted a statewide survey about the economic impacts of COVID-19 in August 2019 which found that ALICE households were more concerned about how to afford housing and related costs like utilities than they were about contracting COVID-19. ALICE households only had one month or less of savings to cover necessities, versus the rest of PA households who had two months or more.

“This data drives United Way’s policy priorities for a very important legislative session where our elected representatives’ decisions need to support recovery from the pandemic. The health and financial stability of ALICE workers and consumers has a multiplier effect which benefits local businesses, and our top priority is for Pennsylvania to join 30 other states that already have an Earned Income Tax Credit which will put earnings back in the pocket of working Pennsylvanians to help pay for things they need,” Rotz said.

United Way will also be advocating for rental and utility assistance to help families who are months behind on their bills, for state partnership and investment in PA 211 to continue to connect people in need to resources in their communities, and for increased access to high quality infant and toddler care which will be necessary to help ALICE families return to work.

The full report, plus an executive summary of COVID-19 impacts, an interactive map, the ALICE experience, and more are available at

About United Way of Pennsylvania (UWP):

United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. In 2019, United Ways in Pennsylvania raised nearly $170 million for local communities. United Way of Pennsylvania is a membership organization whose purpose is to assist and champion the efforts of local United Ways in advancing the common good. Other charitable organizations, known as United Funds or Community Chests, also can be members of UWP.

UWP engages and connects local United Ways with resources that will help them address their community needs. UWP serves as the voice for 44 member United Ways across the commonwealth on state public policy issues that relate to community impact work in education, income and health.

About United For ALICE

United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, shining a light on the challenges ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households face and finding collaborative solutions. Through a standardized methodology that assesses the cost of living in every county, this project provides a comprehensive measure of financial hardship across the U.S. Equipped with this data, ALICE partners convene, advocate, and innovate in their local communities to highlight the issues faced by ALICE households and to generate solutions that promote financial stability. The grassroots movement represents United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia,
Washington and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit:


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