New ALICE update shows wage growth was no match for inflation

Published 5:44 pm Saturday, May 25, 2024

Though wages for the lowest paying jobs have risen across the country at the fastest rate in four decades, the number of households struggling to get by in Mississippi grew by more than 7,973 from 2021 to 2022. As a result, a total of 586,430 households, or 52 per- cent, were living paycheck to paycheck, according to a new update from United Way of West Central Mississippi and its research partner United For ALICE.

That calculation includes the 218,414 Mississippi households in poverty, as well as another 368,016 defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the federal poverty level, but less than what’s needed to survive in the current economy. ALICE workers include childcare providers, home health aides and cashiers — those working low-wage jobs, with little or no savings and living one emergency away from poverty.

ALICE in the Crosscurrents: An Update on Financial Hardship in Mississippi, shows that while wages were increasing, so too were costs. For a family of four with an infant and a preschooler, the basic costs to live and work in Mississippi, excluding tax credits, rose from $71,388 in 2021 to $75,948 a year later. Compounding the issue in 2022 was the loss of up to $15,000 in
federal child tax credits and stimulus payments that this family had access to in 2021.

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“There is no doubt, bigger paychecks helped, but inflation and the loss of pandemic supports converged to keep ALICE trapped,” said United Way of West Central Mississippi Executive Director Michele Connelly. “This latest data is a reminder that while we have made some progress, our work is far from over.”

The findings in this one-year period are consistent with a more than decade-long trend: Since the end of the Great Recession, despite some ups and downs, the number of ALICE households in Mississippi has been steadily growing. From 2010 to 2022, the total number of households rose by four percent, households in poverty increased by four percent — and the number of ALICE households grew by 15 percent.

“The data is showing persistent and widespread financial hardship — a red flag that the current system isn’t working for ALICE,” said Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D., United For ALICE national director. “Current policy has not been enough to break down the barriers that trap ALICE households in financial hardship, from lack of access to housing and childcare that’s affordable, to inadequate community support such as broadband internet.”