ALICE report: More of us are living on the edge of poverty

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Condos line Miami’s bayfront, but many Greater Miami residents cannot afford them.
Condos line Miami’s bayfront, but many Greater Miami residents cannot afford them. Miami Herald

You may have suspected it, but here’s verification of a shocking reality for many Miami-Dade families: Life is getting harder for those already in a financial struggle.

The black-and-white evidence comes from the United Way of Florida’s recently released ALICE report, which annually documents how households are making ends meet.

The real name of the ALICE report says it all. Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed measures “households that earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the cost of living for the county” — plus median household income against a monthly household budget.

For Miami-Dade, the numbers were bleak this year, bleaker than for Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties: The agency found that, to varying degrees, 58 percent of our local 858,000 families live below the poverty level, or hover just above it.

That means they lead stress-filled existences, living paycheck to paycheck, scrambling to cover basic needs, deciding what to pay this month and what can wait until the next.

While the federal poverty level is $24,250, the ALICE report estimates that in Miami-Dade, the minimum survival budget for a family of four is $56,753 — up about $8,600 over the past three years. Yet, a living wage in Miami-Dade is elusive for many of our neighbors.

The report indicates that six out of 10 Miami-Dade residents are struggling to pay for the basic necessities of food, housing, transportation, healthcare and childcare. That’s up from 50 percent three years ago, despite improvement in the overall economy.

Only four counties in the state, mainly more rural counties, have higher percentages, according to the report based on 2015 American Community Survey and other economic data.

Numbers in Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties were slightly more encouraging. In Broward, 44 percent live either below the poverty level or paycheck to paycheck; in Palm Beach it’s 40 percent and Monroe, 46 percent.

Statewide it gets a little better. The report shows 29.5 percent of Florida’s working households are scrambling to make ends meet, and another 14.5 percent earn less than the federal poverty level.

Combined, that’s 44 percent, or 3.3 million households out of the state’s total 7.5 million households.

So what is going on in Miami-Dade? Probably basic economics and the rule of supply and demand.

While affordable housing has all but disappeared in the county, fair living wages remain elusive and the cost of basic needs and transportation and tolls are eating a hole in many people’s pockets. And there are jobs available, but not high-paying jobs.

The perfect storm of these factors has sent Miami-Dade reeling economically. For the poor and middle class, quality of life continues to slowly deteriorate. Miami keeps popping up on lists naming the most expensive cities to live in.

There are several thoughtful initiatives, civic and governmental, tackling a piece of this huge challenge. But they cannot work in silos and expect to make a noticeable difference.

Many community leaders have told the Editorial Board they are well aware of the economic disparity that is growing between the haves and the have-nots. This report makes it crystal clear that all must act quickly to stop this freefall.