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Almost Half of American Families Can’t Afford the Basics

While many of these struggling families are living in poverty, more are not.

A study released by the United Way revealed that nearly 51 million households — or 43 percent of households in in the United States — can’t afford to pay for such necessities as  housing, food, child care, health care, transportation, and a cell phone within their monthly budget.

While unemployment has been steadily declining and now hovers around four percent, many Americans struggle to pay for basic necessities. The United Way survey found that of those who can’t afford that basic monthly budget, only 16.1 million were living in poverty. The other 34.7 million are what the organization defines as “ALICE” — Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed.

The ALICE framework is defined as “the bare minimum economic survival level that is based on the local cost of living in each area.” The majority of these households that cannot afford basic necessities are working families that don’t fall below the poverty line, but do not making enough to survive. They largely work in child care, as office assistants, and in the service industry, jobs that are — or near — minimum wage. While the minimum wage varies by state and the ability to survive on it varies by county, the struggle to survive is often most acute in America’s big cities such as Seattle, where, in order to live on a budget of a family of four, families have to make more than $40 an hour. In Seattle, according to CNN, only 14 percent of jobs in that area pay that much.

The picture nationwide is fairly grim. While North Dakota has the lowest percentage of ALICE households at 32 percent, most states hover around or near 50 percent. Although unemployment has been dipping steadily, wages have not effectively risen to meet the demands of an increasingly expensive cost of living. And as rent, gasoline, child care, the cost of a home, and other expenses continue to rise, many families will continue to struggle