Alice–Updated, Slipping Further Behind

Regular readers of this blog have met ALICE before. ALICE is an acronym standing for “Asset limited, income constrained, employed.” That last word–employed–is important; it puts the lie to the widespread fiction that struggling Americans just need to work, or work harder.

The Association of United Ways issued the original ALICE report in 2014, updated it in 2016, and have now produced data for 2018. It isn’t pretty.

For those who haven’t met ALICE, the report describes her:

ALICE is your child care worker, your parent on Social Security, the cashier at your supermarket, the gas attendant, the salesperson at your big box store, your waitress, a home health aide, an office clerk. ALICE cannot always pay the bills, has little or nothing in savings, and is forced to make tough choices such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent. One unexpected car repair or medical bill can push these financially strapped families over the edge.

As the researchers point out, traditional measures of poverty don’t capture the real picture–the number of people who are struggling financially because the actual cost of life’s necessities where they live is more than they earn.

Indiana, for example, has 2,530,581 households. Thirteen and a half percent of those households fall below the official poverty line–but another 25.2% fall between the poverty line and the ALICE threshold. That’s 38.7% of Hoosiers who face a constant, debilitating struggle for economic survival.

The Indianapolis Business Journal (subscription required) recently began a series it is calling “One City, Worlds Apart” focusing on the dimensions of that struggle and the consequences for the city as a whole.

The number of Indianapolis residents living in poverty rose from 11.8 percent in 2000 to 21.3 percent in 2015 — an increase of more than 85,000 people. During that same period, the city’s population only grew 90,000.

About 30 percent of Indianapolis children lived in poverty in 2015, a particularly worrisome finding, because recent research has found that growing up in impoverished homes has a quantifiably negative effect on children’s cognitive ability.

The stress experienced by impoverished and ALICE families isn’t just financial: struggling people live in poorer neighborhoods that are less safe and less healthy. They lack the time and resources that permit other citizens to participate in civic and political life–and as a result, their voices aren’t heard–or their needs considered– in most public policy debates.

As the ALICE reports have emphasized, ALICE folks are in large part the workers that we more privileged folks rely upon for a multitude of essential services. Evidently, we aren’t willing to pay a living wage to the people who provide those services. (There’s a parallel here with our unwillingness to pay taxes adequate to support the public services we demand.)

The irony is, we pay in other ways. As the ALICE reports and the  Business Journal series document, there are significant social costs to a system that leaves so many hard-working people behind.

Dismissing the struggle of ALICE families as a consequence of laziness or lack of ambition is a sign of moral obtuseness–when it isn’t intentionally self-serving. When you tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you should probably check to see if they have any boots.


  1. “The stress experienced by impoverished and ALICE families isn’t just financial: struggling people live in poorer neighborhoods that are less safe and less healthy. They lack the time and resources that permit other citizens to participate in civic and political life–and as a result, their voices aren’t heard–or their needs considered– in most public policy debates.”

    These ALICE families also make up those who are disenfranchised from their homes, businesses and neighborhoods for gentrification. Many among them are not only low-income but are elderly and often disabled. With local governments using their tax dollars as incentives to developers who will make money from the loss of “home and hearth” of ALICE families, sometimes a family of one. They/we/I pay the same increase in prices on every piece of goods on the market and services we must avail ourselves of. Then we are hit with the local increase in gas tax to be used only for road repairs yet to be seen, the Transportation Infrastructure Improvement Act to register our vehicles and those of us who are singled out for upgraded property assessments and increased property taxes. Yes; a small number of us do own or are buying our homes and we are stuck in place; struggling to maintain our lowly status quo and no ability to afford rents elsewhere. The ALICE equation is another word for imprisonment; some in the Work Release system.

    Those who want to scale back, privatize or do away with Social Security have a deep misunderstanding of the term; we have little if any Social life and it sure as hell ain’t Secure. Those working for minimum wage or are underpaid; and those who earn what was a livable income 5 years ago are losing ground with the minimum wagers and those on low income. And the totally Republican Trump government hasn’t gone into full effect yet.

    For days I have periodically checked with MSNBC and CNN for news of some importance; it is on-going Trump updates regarding his many denied connections to Russia and his claimed cancellation of the denuclearization summit which he did NOT ask to happen, he merely accepted Kim Jong Un’s request to meet. It wasn’t his party so he cannot cancel it; he can only refuse to attend. Now it is back on…for the time being…with Trump claiming all the glory. Sen. McConnell spoke his first intelligent words in years when he tried to warn Trump not to trust North Korea. You know, I know, all God’s chil’en knows not to trust North Korea or Russia but nothing is left within our power to control. There is no escape route and no affordable safe haven within reach. Do not forget that the wealthy throughout Europe which Hitler considered to be his enemies, died in those gas chambers or were worked to death in concentration camps along with the poor…after they were relieved of their wealth. You of the “haves” are not immune to Trump’s disease of the soul anymore than the rest of we who are members of ALICE.

    “Dismissing the struggle of ALICE families as a consequence of laziness or lack of ambition is a sign of moral obtuseness–when it isn’t intentionally self-serving. When you tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you should probably check to see if they have any boots.”

  2. common, the u.n. just published a scathing inditcment of u.s. poverty,via talk, this isnt a eye opener to me as a working class,its real,everyday,even as a whole,in every administration ive lived through. diffrence,,when i was growing up as a child,we had a union who provided a wage,and insurence thst coverd a family. seems paul ryan wont even meet with the u.n, envoy who worked this report. typical crap that has gone on now since the moneys take over of goverment,obviously,weve only become economic slaves to this so called free society,as we literaly ignore our own demise, im fortunate to to have open eyes beyond most even here at this site,my travels through many areas of the country,hasnt left me wondering when i seen this very issue,everywhere ive been. rural alabama,misssisssippi,louisiana,all hotbeds of racial inequality,as with every state somewheres has a deliberate disregard to human needs that are basic where even white people are treated like trash by the local police,politicians,well better offs,can say we cut taxes to help joe banker get ahead,at the poors,and working classes expense. if we watch fox,and corprate news,and allow us to be unmoved,its because of thier slant is instilled to make it sound like this is the norm.. 2018 and we still have poverty in the so called greatest nation in the world. seems the republicans are keen at war mongering and screwing the working class and poor without any disgrace,,(reagan,bush,bush,trump). seroiusly,take a ride on your next vacation,take a side road down memory lane in alabama,mississippi,louisiana, screw the time factor, get out at a local road side market.and associate with the locals, and look around,take pictures,and postem. and most of all,disgrace those who allow this to take place in America today..p.s. why didnt congress as awhole meet with this envoy? guilty of association,eh?

  3. And it’s approaching 50% for the Nation. There is a new name for this new working class…Precariats.

    Sheila writes, “As the researchers point out, traditional measures of poverty don’t capture the real picture–the number of people who are struggling financially because the actual cost of life’s necessities where they live is more than they earn.”

    Sheila also points to some of the occupations…the servant class.

    There are many very intelligent people who’ve already been discussing the pitfalls of capitalism because of the inability to distribute the wealth among all Americans. Albert Einstein saw it in the 40’s and called it, “Evil”.

    Thomas Piketty and Jeffrey Sachs have backed up their claims with academic research and Pope Francis calls income inequality the, “Moral crisis of our time.”

    It doesn’t just underlie civil unrest in the USA, but it’s across the world. That was the biggest warning the Financial Elite heard in Davos…if we don’t do something, it’s going to get ugly.

    The Poor People’s Campaign kicked off last month to pick up where MLK left off in 1968 when our government determined he was expendable. MLK must have read Albert Einstein’s dictum as well when he wrote:

    “What I’m saying to you this morning is that Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis.”

    He also wrote:

    “We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”

    It’s gotten much, much worse in 2018. Meanwhile, the “people’s party” platform is, “We’re Not Trump.”

    The DNC refuses to put together a people’s platform which wouldn’t require much marketing. All The Trumpians will switch back over to “D”.

    But Nancy Pelosi’s solution is perpetuating the myth of Putin stealing the election from Clinton.

    Yet, the loyal D’s keep voting for them and nothing improves…#Insanity

  4. Addendum: I commented a few months ago that the Warren Township Assessor’s Office had increased the assessment on my 61 year-old, post Korean war once middle class home in a now low-middle income area by over $9,000. This increased my property taxes by almost 50%. I filed a three-page, single-spaced appeal letter containing a great deal of information regarding issues always considered in real estate assessments of any property and specific information on my home. I had included the upper and lower averages of real estate in the entire 46219 zip code area which had been provided by a Google source, Ruththerealtor. Within 10 days I received a lowered, by $6,000, reassessment on my home and form to sign and return if I accepted the offer, which I did. After waiting, I finally contacted the Warren Township Assessor again to ask if the new assessment had lowered my property taxes (already paid for the full year to prevent any fines or fees). I received a response with no specific yes or no but another form to file to claim any reimbursement due to the lowered assessment. Sigh; sometimes the amount of ridiculous paperwork involved in government makes me fear the loss of all forested areas in the country. Still waiting for an answer or a check.

    I am having a problem understanding why my assessment went up over $9,000, property taxes increased by almost 50%, while my next door neighbor received no reassessment and his property tax bill increased by $30 for the year. Others around me saw NO reassessment and NO increase in property taxes. A family member living in Franklin Township received a $3,000 LOWERED assessment, a friend in Center Township received NO increased assessment. Could the Warren Township Assessor possibly have believed my Disability Exemption is due to Alzheimer’s, senility or dementia? I will never know. Or is someone of a far-right leaning political view reading this blog and my comments? Just askin’ from my position in ALICE territory.

  5. While many on this blog continue to place blame for the economic conditions in the country on one or both political parties, I would like to remind you that the biggest players in the capitalist game are those who sit on the boards of directorship of corporations.

  6. Via Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, Institute for New Economic Thinking.

    Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

    James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.

    The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.

    More Here…

  7. One more paragraph from the above link…

    She observes, for example, that many liberals have missed the point of strategies like privatization. Efforts to “reform” public education and Social Security are not just about a preference for the private sector over the public sector, she argues. You can wrap your head around, even if you don’t agree. Instead, MacLean contents, the goal of these strategies is to radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.

    MacLean argues that despite the rhetoric of Virginia school acolytes, shrinking big government is not really the point. The oligarchs require a government with tremendous new powers so that they can bypass the will of the people. This, as MacLean points out, requires greatly expanding police powers “to control the resultant popular anger.” The spreading use of pre-emption by GOP-controlled state legislatures to suppress local progressive victories such as living wage ordinances is another example of the right’s aggressive use of state power.

    Could these right-wing capitalists allow private companies to fill prisons with helpless citizens—or, more profitable still, right-less undocumented immigrants? They could, and have. Might they engineer a retirement crisis by moving Americans to inadequate 401(k)s? Done. Take away the rights of consumers and workers to bring grievances to court by making them sign forced arbitration agreements? Check. Gut public education to the point where ordinary people have such bleak prospects that they have no energy to fight back? Getting it done.

  8. Two years ago, come September, I asked Trey Hollingsworth a question after a forum at the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. He had said he didn’t think the minimum wage should be increased to $15 an hour. So I asked him, “Do you pay your workers a living wage?” He started to walk away from me. I called out, “I asked you a reasonable question, why won’t you answer?” He turned and said to me, “My employees work for me voluntarily.” I will never forget that exchange.

  9. There is much talk among this forum wrt the threat(s) against democracy. Yet,when someone such as Todd brings up the complicity of the DNC and DCCC for its role in the advancement and enabling of this threat the peanut gallery summarily wants his words to be silenced from this forum. I’ll leave it up to the reader as to whether they believe the Democratic Party has been an effective shield against the threats from big moneyed interests. Trump is just a symptom.

    Btw,good subject from the professor wrt today’s subject.

  10. Stark. I had to stop reading Sheila’s posts and especially the comments. I am afraid the sea change in Indiana has already happened and we are just waiting for the lava to harden. My soul hurts that we may have missed our chance for a great society and we have but a few resistance fighters willing to pick up the cause.

    My friends and family members mostly go about life unconcerned and uninformed, if they can; otherwise, they mostly struggle in desperation.

    I serve the public that are at the heart of these issues, they un- and underemployed. Our current governor and GOP minions have quietly, with much fanfare, moved the tax dollars to assist these citizens into other hands. The blame is left to fall on the too few workers remaining and yet the citizen customers seem unwilling to pursue the understanding of the changes. Sure, most of them are ALICE and do not have the luxury of time and energy to study.

    Thanks for the light, friends, please shout it from the mountain tops before it’s too late.

  11. William; regarding Todd and all others who repeatedly concentrate comments on the faults of the entire DNC and those elected officials who disappoint us, we are more aware of that than you, Todd and others who harp on the issue. We are aware the DNC and DCCC have NOT been an effective shield against much of anything. Tell us something we don’t know or offer suggestions for positive change. Would you remind a blind person of their blindness if they fell, a deaf person of their deafness when they can’t hear you, or a wheelchair- bound person that you can run faster then they can? On second thought; I believe YOU would, not sure about the others. On many occasions you appear to have replaced Gopper in your attitude.

  12. JoAnn,did you even read the link I provided wrt James McGill Buchanan? Probably not. You’re only interested in glad-handedness, platitudes and rhetoric.

  13. Just an fyi:

    You’re quite the presumptuous one. I was confined to a wheelchair for 4 months…..

  14. William: I see you are in full attack mode this morning. “Peanut Gallery”? Really? Perhaps you should step away from the mirror. Your shell is cracked.

    The coming reality of abject poverty creating the long-overdue revolution is getting more stark. We “peanuts” have been describing the vagaries of capitalism in a variety of terms using a variety of authors – including me – as a warning for our near future. The pitiful and disgusting part of Trump is his describing the country in strongly dystopian terms, then turning around and helping those who created this mess. THAT is how societies fail and nations crumble.

    Already our “allies” are leaving us in droves as the scourge of Republicanism poisons everything it touches except the few who hoard money and power. This formula for revolution is just now in its “PRE-” stages. There will be a spark that sets off the powder keg, and it won’t be somebody like Nancy Pelosi, the DNC, the DCCC or any other convenient whining targets that some see as the source of our liberal woes. It will be something like that capitalist who walked away after saying the modern equivalent of “let ’em eat cake.”

  15. Vernon,I’m sure you’ve written extensively wrt James McGill Buchanan within your books,yes?

  16. Can ALICE dump Trump?

    They can certainly help if we can help get them over some of the many obstacles that keep them 3/5’s of a human at the polls as America has traditionally regarded them.

    Our Constitution promises them the same influence in hiring and firing those who represent them in government as each of the Koch Brothers or Betsy DeVos has.

    Today that Constitutional promise seems a pitiful and cruel joke. Authoritarians tout loudly their right to be ready to kill but ignore the critical right to select government in which everyone is guaranteed their and only their proportionate influence in.

    Why? Because authoritarians have declared that wealth counts more than humanity does.

    It’s no longer one “man” one vote. It’s one “man” X what they have in the bank taken from workers who produce all wealth.

    Who thought it was a good idea to give people like that disproportionate influence over who governs?

  17. Well,I do try to view things from the view of a beginner. After all,It has been rumored that a sophisticate’s mind is closed to new things, while a beginner’s mind is open to all.

    I am angry and impassioned. If you’re not pissed off you’re too comfortable. That is the problem with the peanut gallery. Peanut galleries believe online petitions and voting for the same characters is effective against such interests as the Kochs,Mercers and Adelsons. If democracy is at peril to the extent as those that frequently post to this forum have written,why is it these very same folks only appear angered at those of the genuine left? I think a few here are members of the 9% and feel much more threatened by the real left than from the Republicans. It’s my belief that once the evangelicals are removed from the Republican Party,most of you will flock to en-mass to re-join the party of big business and country-club networking.

  18. Alice moved over and voted for Trump because the Democratic Party bailed on her years ago. Her undying support was returned with broken promises for decades.

    In case you didn’t notice, none of the teacher strikes were organized by unions. It means if the people want change, they’ll have to abandon the traditional institutions and be created. In one of the state’s the public teachers invited the charter school teachers. They walked hand in hand.

    What do you think will happen if McDonald’s employers stages a strike for $15 wages. I mean stopped showing up for work.

    And William, you’re singing my tunes today. I ready Nancy’s article which was quickly attacked by Koch’s sycophants. They trashed her book too.

    One nugget from the article:

    “She notes that he took care to use economic and political precepts, rather than overtly racial arguments, to make his case, which nonetheless gave cover to racists who knew that spelling out their prejudices would alienate the country.”

    The masks are off today, huh???

  19. “Can ALICE dump Trump?”

    Pete; I’m going to guess no on that one after reading only the AOL headline, not the article: “Giuliani: Trump can probably pardon himself”

    Has this country fallen over the edge of the flat earth, fallen down that rabbit hole or are we all trapped in the Twilight Zone? All sign of logic, common sense and reality is quickly disappearing from view.

  20. Indeed,Todd,the masks are off.

    Who cares about Alice when there are Russians under every bed and behind every corner?

  21. Hey Todd, how come the enlightened authors have not chimed in beyond the usual vapid ad hominems and spoken to the following..

    “She notes that he took care to use economic and political precepts, rather than overtly racial arguments, to make his case, which nonetheless gave cover to racists who knew that spelling out their prejudices would alienate the country.”

    Why is there absolutely no comments wrt James McGill Buchanan? Especially from the enlightened elders?

    I guess we’re just supposed to cheer for the DNC,humble brag,tell each other how great we are,tell each other how smart we are and disparage any genuine lefty ideals. Who cares about giving cover to racists if it doesn’t (or isn’t framed in a narrative) to garner votes for the DNC and DCCC!?

    Crisis is cool. Consent is manufactured.Outrage is a marketable asset.

  22. We’re saved! New AOL headline; “Giuliani: Trump has no intention of pardoning himself”

  23. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll — You cannot slip into a Disneyland 1865 line from Indianapolis to Sri Lanka to found a Medical Education College and get that moved into Chief Muncie’s Delaware Valley by 1865 either.
    Alice Blue Gown? Alice in the Bathtub? No matter how HARD your body tries, your soles cannot make District of Columbia into a 4-year College dormitory for loose Politicians of 1986-85 ERIC options to vote for Alice to go to Wonderland or stay at Columbia to welcome the Geography Alumni in SACT.

  24. I guess the rabid Christians are still abed this morning.
    What are you women and men going to do about the insanity of Donald Trump?
    If it’s not fake news, the latest report is that Trump is deploring how Democrats are ripping immigrant children out of the arms of their mothers when, in fact, Trump and his Republican co-conspirators have engineered the draconian policy to terrify families already struggling to survive abject poverty.
    Compare this with the other draconian Republican policy of forcing by law girls and women to carry to term unwanted pregnancies. Why is it deemed okay by white Christians to separate at the border WANTED living children from their mothers but decidedly NOT okay to separate embryos LEGALLY from their uteruses? If your answer is “life”, why are you permissive of men and boys masturbating (Bible seed-spilling) resulting in ending prospective life? Argue the hypocrisy that life begins with conception until you examine semen under magnification and see those thousands of wriggling spermatozoa each struggling against certain death. Conception is not the beginning, implantation is, for without implantation, life cannot be sustained.
    Follow the dollar to justify Trump insanity of blaming the Democrats for a dividing of families procedure instituted at the border by Donald Trump and tacitly supported by his craven Republican facilitators in Congress.
    VOTE to support the Blue Wave and flip the congressional majority to the party of the people, the Democrats. It’s the essential first step to straighten out the disarray in Washington. VOTE.

  25. I respectfully request less in fighting among commenters. I found William’s and JoAnn’s initial observations interesting and thought provoking, as they usually are.

  26. One author does not an argument make. Whoever the hell James Buchanan was doesn’t matter as much as what we, as a people, need to do to save our nation from the capitalists and the hair-brained commentary of whiney jerks who wallow in their own self-righteousness.

  27. Based on the article, the comments and my own observations over 67 years — Democracy, Capitalism and a 2 party system married together will inevitably fail — their ultimate goals are so different & divergent that the end result is chaos. I think we are very close to end based on the level of chaos evident right now.

  28. The ultimate blame rests not with the politicians of either party as much as it is on those who vote against their own self-interest or don’t vote at all, then rail against those “elites” who point out the fact that they are being conned.
    Voters are the only avenue left for change. If they do not go to the polls or are prevented from doing so, we are on the road to dictatorship, regardless of which party is driving the bus.

  29. William @ 8:52 >> I’ll leave it up to the reader as to whether they believe the Democratic Party has been an effective shield against the threats from big moneyed interests. <<<

    Certain Democrats have benefited from "big moneyed interests":

    Bill and Hillary cashed in very well, Mon, 08/03/2015: Since 2013 Bill Clinton has been paid $26.6 million for 94 speeches; Hillary's grand total is slightly less: $21.7 million for 92 private appearances. You can find them a list of them here:

    Numerous reports have documented the increase in aggregate income into the top 5%, since at least 1980. The McMega-Media would have us believe that a rising stock market is the tide that raises all the ships, from the big yachts to the leaky rowboats. The McMega-Media has to repeat this as they are a part of the scam. Ignored for purposeful reasons are the millions who have to live hand to mouth, with little hope of advancement.

    CNN, MSDNC and FOX are as as bad as Pravda ever was, slanted, selective reporting, the protagonist in all the stories is Agent Orange one way or another, a notable exception is a double digit mass killing.

  30. William,

    I read the Parramore article on Maclean’s book and it is immensely interesting.

  31. William:

    “Read my books and learn something useful”.

    TomP at Daily Kos has commented that your book is too simplistic. I will defer to his thoughts as I believe him to be correct since you have gleefully admitted to your ignorance on the work of Buchanon. I can’t possibly take you seriously if you’ve written about the Powell Manifesto and thus chosen to ignore Maclean’s book wrt Buchanon’s work. I’ll stick with reading the more useful book–Maclean’s,thank-you-very-much. Buchanon’s work is a cog within the machinations of the Koch’s political activities (the Powell Memorandum is their Manifesto)which also affects Alice. You can’t write about one without acknowledging the other. To do so is willful ignorance and to disparage Maclean’s work is nothing shy of blatant arrogance.

  32. John Neal – can you provide a link to the review of Mac lean’s Book you mentioned above . L

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