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Report: Nearly half households in Broward living paycheck-to-paycheck. Blame COVID-19

Boxes of food from the Farm Share food distribution are loaded into cars at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Miami Gardens on Friday June 1, 2022.
Carline Jean
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Volunteers help package hygiene kits for families and veterans in need at Food For The Poor in Coconut Creek on Friday, November 11, 2022.

The number of Broward County households that could not afford the cost of basic necessities like housing, child care and food rose during the first two years of the COVID−19 pandemic, according to the United Way’s latest ALICE report.

The rise in ALICE households — "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed" — climbed to more than 346,000 households in 2021, up from about 328,000 in 2019. The COVID−19 pandemic started in March 2020.

Viewed another way: The latest ALICE report data shows that Broward families living paycheck−to−paycheck or below the poverty line represents a staggering 46% of all households. In Miami−Dade, it was 51%. Palm Beach: 44%. Monroe: 43%. View Florida county−by−county data here.

The latest statewide ALICE report — the first look at the extent of financial hardship using ALICE metrics since the start of the pandemic — revealed that Floridians overall didn’t fare any better than those living in Broward.

About 8.5 million households in Florida, 3.9 million — or 45% — had income below the 'ALICE Threshold of Financial Survival' or federal poverty line in 2021.

“The crux of the problem is a mismatch between earnings and the cost of basics,” wrote the ALICE report authors.

READ MORE: South Florida inflation stays high. Regional Federal Reserve boss says be patient

They note, for example, that 54% of cashiers — among the most common jobs statewide — were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021. They earned a median hourly wage of $11.06 — not enough to cover the 'ALICE Household Survival Budget' for one worker employed full−time. That would be at least $14.17 per hour for one person; $33.16 per hour for a family with children and two adults working.

The ALICE report authors explained that between 2019 and 2021, the cost of basics increased across Florida and remained well above the federal poverty level, which was $26,500 for a family of four. They found that between those years the average annual costs, excluding taxes, rose 12% for a single adult, 11% for a single senior and 7% for a family of four.

WLRN Broward reporter Gerard Albert III spoke with Nazbi Chowdhury, the Director of Public Policy at United Way of Broward, about the latest ALICE report.

Nazbi Chowdhury of United Way of Broward County
United Way
Nazbi Chowdhury of United Way of Broward County

WLRN: How does the report determine whether a person or a family is living in an Alice household?

CHOWDHURY: First, you would have to look at what their annual incomes are and whether or not that income is sufficient enough to meet the household survival budget, which basically encompasses all of the costs of that. It takes the bare minimum that it takes to live within that particular county or area of the state. So whether that be housing, child care, transportation, technology costs, health care costs and so on and so forth. And if they don't, then they're considered an Alice household.

Who makes up these Alice households in Broward County?

They are your essential workers. They work as waitresses, they work as security guards, they work as cooks, retail workers, especially teachers, not to mention our law enforcement workers and agencies, as well as our firefighters. So that's where we'll see some issues and a rise of concern really, when it's going to affect those industries significantly.

The number of Alice households went up in Broward between 2019 and 2021. What are some of the reasons for the increase?

Housing is by far the most expensive and [is the] high end expense of any family single adult household survival budget.

How long is it sustainable to live somewhere where you struggle to afford the things you need?

I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that costs are high and wages are low. We need to kind of sound the alarm … with our employers in Broward County. A lot of our governmental agencies as well, to just let them know that that individuals need that assistance and they're very much so struggling to get it.

What are the short and long term consequences for a family living with this financial strain?

All it takes is one emergency or one accident or one, you know, mishap to happen and a family's life or an individual's life for them to fall under the ALICE threshold.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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