Newest ALICE Report Reveals Higher Cost of Living in Ulster County

United Way’s ALICE Report tracks the number of households that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed. What does that mean exactly?In simple terms, ALICE is a household that is working but struggling to meet the basic needs of housing, food, transportation, child care, health care, clothing, and technology. ALICE households find themselves making choices between staying home with a sick child or working to pay the rent, filling a prescription or fixing the car. One unexpected expense or circumstance results in ALICE families teetering on the brink of homelessness, unemployment, or hospitalization.

Who are these folks? ALICE is your child care provider, the cashier at your supermarket, the salesperson at your favorite retail shop, or the waitress at your favorite restaurant, a home health aide, an office clerk, a security guard, customer service representative, or janitor. If you look around you, you’ll notice that ALICE is everywhere.

According to the ALICE Project, ALICE households comprise between 32% and 49% of each State’s population. In Ulster County, the number of ALICE households has decreased by 3% over the past two years, to 41%, while the number of ALICE households throughout New York State has increased by 2%, to 45%. While the downward trend for Ulster County is a good sign, that still leaves a good portion of our population struggling financially.

What is most striking about the new report (based on 2016 data) is that the “survival budget” required to meet basic needs for a household with two adults, and two school aged children in Ulster County is 16% higher, at $79,632 than the New York State average (at $68,688), and 21% higher than the “Rest of the State” (at $65,616), the group that includes Ulster County. A “survival budget” according to the ALICE research team, “calculates the actual costs of basic necessities including housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, miscellaneous expenses like clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and cable; a smart phone, and taxes, adjusted for different counties in NYS and household types”.  The “survival budget” does not include dining out, entertainment, travel, holiday or birthday gifts, or savings.

So what’s contributing to this higher survival budget for Ulster County? A closer look shows that housing costs in Ulster County are 20% higher than the New York State average, and 40% higher than the Rest of the State.  Childcare expenses in Ulster County are 23% higher than the New York State average, and 34% higher than the Rest of the State. Transportation expenses are calculated at 11% higher than the New York State average, and the Rest of the State. Miscellaneous expenses are calculated at 16% higher than New York State, and 21% higher than the Rest of the State.  And taxes are calculated as 32% higher than New York State, and 45% higher than the Rest of the State.  Add to this that the “cost of household basics in New York State increased by 22% for a family of four from 2010 to 2016 (driven primarily by an 11% increase in child care costs and an 83% increase in healthcare costs) while at the same time, median earnings only increased by 11% in New York and nationwide”, and it’s easy to see why the United Way is helping more and more people who are ALICE.

Part of our mission is to inform and educate our community about the struggles and challenges faced by some Ulster County families. Our participation in the ALICE Project is intended to shed light on these financially fragile and often invisible neighbors of ours, and to develop resources to meet their needs.

To read the full ALICE Report  –