A recent study from the Michigan Association of United Ways has shed light on the financial hardship some Michigan families have faced because of the pandemic. The 2023 ALICE Report shows that of the approximately four million households in the state, nearly 1.5 million or 39% — struggled to afford basic needs like housing, health care, childcare, food and transportation during the pandemic.  

As of 2022, the financial situation for ALICE households has only gotten worse. With temporary pandemic assistance funds waning and expiring, families have been left with high levels of food insufficiency, mental health struggles and continued difficulty paying bills. The impact this could have on the nation’s recovery and the next economic disruption leaves Michigan’s leaders and policymakers at a critical juncture about how to right the ship.  

“American Black Journal” host Stephen Henderson sat down with United Way for Southeastern Michigan President and CEO Dr. Darienne Hudson to talk about the findings from the ALICE report.  

They discuss the pandemic’s continued impact on Michigan families struggling to make ends meet and the racial disparities found in the report— 59% of Black and 44% of Hispanic households sat below the ALICE threshold compared to 39% of white households. ALICE stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.” 

Full Transcript:

Stephen Henderson, American Black Journal, Host: I want to start with just the stark numbers that are in this report. Nearly 70% of people in Detroit and lots of people around the southeast Michigan really struggling just to make ends meet, just to do basic things that we all need. And a lot of this still has to do, I guess, with the pandemic and the disruption.

Dr. Darienne Hudson, President & CEO, United Way For SouthEastern Michigan: Absolutely. Our ALICE report gives us an accurate understanding of what’s happening in our households and in our communities. The report that everyone has access to now says 2023. It’s actually a reflection of what was happening in 2021. And the sad part, Stephen, is that we are still very much in the same position. Dr. Darienne Hudson: Thirty-eight percent of our households and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. And even with pandemic support and resources that came from the federal government, some of the tax credits that were instituted, we still saw our families struggling to afford food and housing and transportation and childcare.

Stephen Henderson: Yeah, you know, I’m not sure that a lot of people really, really think anymore that the pandemic is still causing the kinds of disruptions it did. Can you talk just a little about why that’s true? Why we’re three years from the beginning of the pandemic now? Why is it still having this effect?

Dr. Darienne Hudson: So during the height of the pandemic, we were actually able to institute a number of what we call pandemic era tax credits and stimulus programs. And so I believe that it kept people afloat for a period of time. And what’s happening now are all of these programs are coming to an end. So a prime example, the SNAP benefits that were helping people have more resources for food insecurity, they actually came to an end on March 1st.

And since that time, we’ve seen a 33% increase in the number of calls that we’ve received from two on one just for food and security. We actually had a partnership with DTE foundation to get 20,000 gift cards, Kroger gift cards, into the hands of people who are struggling to meet their most basic needs. So, you know, even though we are three years in, the resources that were coming have now come to an end, most of them have come to an end. And so people are still really struggling to meet their basic needs.

Stephen Henderson: Yeah.

Dr. Darienne Hudson: And I think, you know, what you hear everyone talk about all the time is also inflation and rising costs. And our wages have been stagnant. So when you have all of these factors coming into play, it really ends up being a pretty difficult situation for a number of our families in our region.

Stephen Henderson: And we’re talking here about working families. And I really want to emphasize that this a thing that is happening to people who have jobs, who earn money, and they still are not able to earn enough to be able to take care of their families.

Dr. Darienne Hudson: Yup. Far too many of our jobs in the state of Michigan are still paying below $20 an hour. And if you think about, you know, the household survival household budget for a family of four in southeastern Michigan is over $88,000. And most of our families, you know, one or both, are working in retail or were in some type of a customer service role. Those roles just are not paying enough for our families. So even with all of the pandemic supports and resources, we still saw our families well below that $88,000 marker. And like you said, with both families working.

Stephen Henderson: Yeah, Yeah. So I want to do some comparisons of our region to other parts of the state and maybe even to other parts of the country. Is this more acute here in southeast Michigan and especially in Detroit than it is other places?

Dr. Darienne Hudson: So one of the key takeaways with the ALICE report is that ALICE is all of us. So you might see a variation of a percentage point here or there. Our entire state is still at this 39% number. So, you know, we were looking at a Tri-County Snapshot as at 38%, but the state’s at 39%. So this is something that we’re seeing everywhere. It’s across our age demographics. We see our heaviest hit households is with our youngest 25 and under population, as well as our seniors who are the hardest hit. But we also see it across all demographic groups. 60 percent of Black Michiganders are struggling to meet their basic needs.

So in terms of how we compare across the country, especially when you think about the Midwest and the Rust Belt, you will see many of our major cities, our sister cities have numbers that are very similar to ours. And then countywide, you still have these numbers that are hovering around the 40% mark.

Stephen Henderson: So I do want to talk about solutions. As you point out, some of the safety net measures that were taken during the pandemic are now going away. We’re going back to, I guess, a pre-pandemic state there. I don’t think there’s probably much hope that that safety net will be strengthened again, at least not to the extent it was. But talk about some of the other things that we really need to be thinking about in terms of making it easier for people to earn, you know, wages that allow them to support their families.

Dr. Darienne Hudson: So I think quite a bit has occurred. That is giving us some momentum in terms of most recently the working family tax credit that was passed into law. It used to be called the EITC, where now the state is matching 30% of the resources that we receive from the federal government. So, you know, families are now getting $5,000 back when they file their taxes and is actually putting more money back into the pockets of our working families.

And I appreciate that you emphasized the word working because that is key. There are a number of conversations that people are having around, you know, universal pre-K, preschool excuse me, and universal child care and trying to make that much more affordable. We operate the Early Childhood Support Network.We have 11 counties that we’re supporting. And that by far is the most the largest expense that our families are experiencing. You know, I have an eight month old at home, and it is the exact I mean, that this is one of our largest costs. So I believe these are systemic issues. Stephen, there are a number of coalitions.

If you look at all of the different factors with ALICE, whether it’s transportation, health, housing, food insecurity, there are coalitions all around our region of people, business leaders, community leaders, nonprofits coming together to try to tackle these issues. But a lot of it really will depend on policies that are passed to support working families.

Stephen Henderson: But what about moving the needle on the policy side? I think a lot of people feel kind of helpless when they think about that.

Dr. Darienne Hudson: Advocacy is key. I’m someone I stress voting rights. I think it’s really important that everyone who has the ability to vote cast their vote. But once you cast those votes, you have to advocate for the policies that matter. Our organization, we send out a number of different resources for people to be able to sign on to different letters. They can, you know, actually get a template of a letter that they can send to their local representative. They can also send it to their congressperson as well.

And we have a number of agencies. You know, we have the league that does this at the state level, but it really is rolling up our sleeves. We have to study. I actually have to pay attention to what’s happening in Lansing, even happening what’s happening with our local governments, and really inform ourselves on ways that we can start to have more of a voice in the advocacy space for the things that are most important to us.

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