United Way study finds 40% of Summit County households struggle to afford basics

Oct 4, 2017

As published by Crain's Cleveland Business on October 4, 2017


Akron's on the rebound but not all of its residents have bounced back yet.

That's according to a new report from Ohio United Way, which finds that 40% of Summit County households struggle to afford life's basic necessities.

That means that two in five households have trouble making enough money to meet their monthly expenses. Worse yet, perhaps, the problem afflicts folks who are working hard — they just aren't making enough money.

The data comes in United Way's new ALICE report — which stands for "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed" — and United Way said it "places a particular spotlight on the large population of Summit County residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings and are one emergency from falling into poverty."

"We all know ALICE," said Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit County, in announcing the report. "ALICE is the recent college graduate who struggles to pay her rent. It's the young family straining under the rising cost of child care. It's the single dad who faces the choice between buying groceries for his family and repairing his car so that he can get to work. The United Way ALICE Report shows that these people make up a significant portion of our community, and their economic future is the economic future of Summit County as a whole."

United Way defines the ALICE population as households that earn more than the official U.S. poverty level but less than the basic cost of living in their community. In Summit County, the rate of households in the ALICE universe is almost twice the number that are actually in poverty as defined by federal income levels.

There are 1.2 million such households in the state and more than 55,000 in Summit County alone, United Way found. Plus, more than 30,000 Summit County households live below the poverty level.

"Combined, ALICE and poverty households, account for two out of every five households in both Ohio and Summit County and more than half of all households in Akron," the report stated.

The report is full of other stark facts:

Households with income below the ALICE threshold make up 40% of households in Summit County and 57% of households in Akron.

70% of Ohio's 1,568 county subdivisions have 30% or more households unable to make ends meet.

The average income needed in order to survive in Ohio depends on local conditions and ranges from $55,000 to $66,000 annually for a family of four, more than double the official U.S. poverty rate.

All told, United Way found that more than 85,000 households in Summit County are unable to afford the state's cost of living.

The point of the study was not to call out Summit County for being too poor or to make residents feel downtrodden. It's meant to help policy makers, including United Way itself, realize the scope of the problem and help solve it. The findings also validate some of what the local agency is already doing and planning.

"The study's revelations are of particular significance to United Way of Summit County as it works toward its Bold Goals for 2025," the organization said in a statement. "For its Bold Goal 3, United Way of Summit County is working to financially empower 11,000 of Akron's working poor – the same population highlighted in the Ohio ALICE Report."

Next year, United Way of Summit County will launch Financial Empowerment Centers, which it is developing with the city of Akron, to help residents build assets, reduce debt, increase credit scores, and utilize budgeting and banking services — all with the help of trained financial advisors.

Local officials, most of whom have applauded United Way's recent efforts to reduce poverty and household financial stress, did not shy away from the new information, either.

"This report uses hard data to paint a picture of the lives of those struggling to get by in our community," Summit County executive Ilene Shapiro said in a statement. "It helps us understand the needs that they have and challenges they face. That makes it a valuable tool for those of us serving in government, who count on accurate information to guide public policy decisions that can effectively promote financial independence."

The report was conducted by Ohio United Way, along with United Way of Summit County and 45 other local United Ways in the state. Additional funding was provided by the Aetna Foundation, AT&T, Atlantic Health System, Deloitte, Entergy, Johnson & Johnson, KeyBank, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., OneMain Financial, Thrivent Financial Foundation, the UPS Foundation and U.S. Venture.

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