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United Way Says 35 Percent of Connecticut’s Households Are Struggling

by | Nov 17, 2014 6:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: The Economy, Jobs, Labor, Nonprofits, Poverty, Plymouth

A new report from the United Way found that about 35 percent of Connecticut households struggle to afford the basic necessities.

About 141,628 households live in poverty and another 332,817 are what the United Way is calling “Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed” or ALICE households.

ALICE households survive on a budget that’s above the federal poverty level, but still not enough to thrive. The annual household survival budget for the average family of four in Connecticut is $64,689 and $21,944 for a single adult. The report found that a family budget that enables not just survival, but self-sufficiency is almost double the household survival budget or $111,632 for a family of four and $30,118 for a single adult.

“We are seeing pressure on the middle class,” Richard Porth, president and CEO of the United Way of Connecticut, said. “People who are working very hard and still struggling to get by and so we wanted to try and understand better what’s underneath that.”

These are households who are one emergency away from a financial crisis, he said.

“One significant illness could send a family into a tailspin,” Porth said.

It could be a mother who has to leave their jobs to take care of a sick child or a father who has a dental emergency or someone whose car breaks down and they can’t get to work on a regular schedule.

“How do you choose between getting your mouth taken care of and putting food on the table for your family?” Porth said. “There are a lot of things many of us would never think of that could create big issues in ALICE households, even though folks are working really hard, sometimes two jobs to make ends meet.”

The United Way, which has done similar studies in other states, is trying to redefine financial hardship because the federal poverty rate “is outdated,” Porth said.

The U.S. poverty rate is around $23,050 for a family and $11,170 for a single adult.

Connecticut ranks fourth in the nation for highest median hourly wage, but because of changes in the job market over the last three decades 51 percent of all jobs in the state still pay less than $20 per hour. A $20-per-hour job at 40 hours per week comes out to a gross income of $41,600 per year.

“The scale of hardship in Connecticut is much higher when you consider that 25 percent of our households are above the poverty line, but below the cost of living for basic necessities as defined in the ALICE report,” Susan Dunn, president and CEO of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, said.

She said the high cost of living and the need for more jobs that pay well is a large part of the problem.

“ALICE is a systemic problem that will not be solved with one simple solution,” Dunn said. “No one organization or government body can solve it.”

Nicole McWilliams, of Plymouth, knows exactly what the United Way is talking about.

The mother of three children knows how hard it is to get by on just her husband’s salary, which just doesn’t seem to go as far as it once did.

During an interview at the Terryville Library, McWilliams declined to give too many details about her personal situation, but believes there is an “imbalance” in the system.

McWilliams has been out of the workforce for 10 years raising her children — ages 9, 6, and 4 — but says she is ready to return and uncertain of what she will find. With only a high school diploma, McWilliams said she knows it won’t be easy, but she wants to start contributing to her family income.

However, like many ALICE households, McWilliams has been contributing to her community over the past decade, including running for local office three times and serving on the library board of trustees and as president of the Parent Teacher Association.

But as hard as her husband works (she declined to offer details about what her husband does for the living), the money just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to. She said she just wants others in similar situations to know they’re not alone.

There are ALICE families in every part of the state, according to the report.

“It feels like I can never get ahead of the game,” said Rosemarie Mastroianni-Lopez, another woman whose household falls into the ALICE category. “I think I can put a little extra away and then there are car problems or a doctor’s bill.”

As an administrative assistant at a private college, Mastroianni-Lopez has taken a part-time job teaching at night just to help make ends meet.

“The teaching job will mean grocery money. I have two kids, 11 and 13, and they never stop eating. If we didn’t eat, we’d have a lot of extra money,” she joked.

Porth said the report highlights the number of hardworking people who fit into this category.

The goal of the report is to get people thinking that “this is a bigger problem than may first meet the eye.”

As far as solutions go, Porth said there will need to be short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to the problem.

In the short-term, nonprofits and the government will need to make sure these families get the assistance they need in order to remain in their homes and their communities. For some that means food stamps, utility assistance, or child care subsidies.

In the long-term, state and private employers need to look at improving access to medium and high-skilled jobs.

“Such a shift would require an influx of new businesses and possibly new industries, as well as education and training,” according to the report.

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: Janster57 | November 17, 2014  6:55am

Interesting that taxes are the highest single monthly cost for a family of four.

posted by: shinningstars122 | November 17, 2014  7:01am


It clear that over four decades of flat wage growth has put the choke hold on the middle class.

For all my conservative friends how much more can we allow corporations to put profits over people?

This problem is way beyond raising the minimum wage or even Obamacare…those efforts are simply band-aids on a much dire problem.

America is out of balance and if you deny that fact well you must be making over $111,000 a year.

Honestly I know for a fact, just like many of you, who are single parents that to be just comfortable in our state; or simply to be able to have a savings account balance, you need to be way above the median income in our state.

If you think this is a taxation problem… well then keep rooting for the plutocracy and corporations as they simply could care less about the middle and working class in our country.

Their actions speak louder than their words.

These issues were completely ignored, and for obvious reason, this past mid-term election cycle by the majority of all politicians running for office in our country.

How could anyone except that denial and irresponsibility?

posted by: perturbed | November 17, 2014  8:12am


Before the site’s base begins to draw false conclusions, like linking this data to some anecdotal mass exodus, they should know that the Hartford Courant reported Connecticut is in the best shape of any of the states for which ALICE reports were done.

Similar ALICE reports have been done in a limited number of other states by their United Way organizations. Northern New Jersey was the first to shine a light on the ALICE population, and this year, for the first time, Connecticut, California, Florida, Indiana and Michigan United Ways have commissioned their own studies.

Connecticut has the lowest proportion of residents below the federal poverty level and the lowest combined total in the ALICE category and below the poverty line of any of the states.

Because pay is higher here, and because Connecticut has been more generous with child-care subsidies, expanding Medicaid and other human services support, Poth said, “we’re in better shape than most places. We have a better chance of addressing the needs.”

You can Google the title: Report: 25 Percent Of Connecticut Households Above Federal Poverty Level But Struggle To Meet Basic Needs


posted by: ASTANVET | November 17, 2014  9:43am

no kidding, we live in one of the highest taxed states in the country, cost of living, cost of goods and services all reflect that - maybe they should have just told the CGA, the GOV and every municipal mayor this info next time they want to raise taxes, or the property assessment.  Think they will listen… NOPE!

posted by: dano860 | November 17, 2014  2:29pm

It would be interesting to know how many of the 35% are receiving assistance. Housing, SNAP, fuel, WIC, utilities, child care and so on. We know they qualify for the ‘un- earned income tax refund’.
The one statement that sets the tone for resolving this disparity is…in order to improve our economy and the lives of the lower to middle class we need to improve access to medium and high skilled jobs. I would question too, what part of the 35% are the qualified for medium and high skilled jobs?
I’ve always said that the minimum wage should be $25. Then you will create tax payers!
Increasing taxes will just increase the amount passed on to the consumer. Corporations do not pay taxes, they just pass them on to us. Just like the electric companies are planning to do with the increased cost of natural gas to generate power.
Without decent jobs there is very little chance for these numbers to change.

posted by: art vandelay | November 18, 2014  11:20am

art vandelay

@Shiningstars122, You continually fail to realize that if corporations placed people over profits they would be out of business.
The sole purpose of a corporation is to make a profit.
The great FDR experiment called the “New Deal” put people over profit. It was a band-aid dismal failure. Thankfully programs like the NRA, CCC, and WPA all went their merry way.  Yes they artificially lowered the unemployment rate after the Great Depression, and put food on peoples plates, but that was it.  It was the corporations and WWII that finally got this country back on its feet.

I get a chuckle out of your Naderistic approach to solving our nations economic problems. If Ralph Nader & the Green Pary had their way, every corporation would be regulated out of business. Don’t get me wrong Ralph Nader transformed the automobile industry with his best seller “Unsafe at any Speed”. In many respects he went too far by not finding a proper balance.  Corporations need to make profits so more people can be put to work. I see nothing wrong with corporate executives and CEO’s being well compensated for their efforts.

posted by: 17beachboy | November 18, 2014  5:42pm

shinningstars122 - A good point you make on corporations putting profits over people.  But keep in mind, we (the U.S.) have the 2nd highest corporate tax rate in the world.  If we raise those rates, corporations will simply move out of the U.S. and take the jobs they create with them.  Yes - I am a conservative, but a realistic one.  People need to be held accountable for their actions - just like corporations.  In our society, the poor have many doors open to them to better themselves, including doors to our educational institutions for little or no cost.  Why do the poor continue to live on generational welfare? Go to school, get a free education, better yourself, then have children.

posted by: dano860 | November 18, 2014  7:04pm

Corporations work for the share holders. The profits drive Wall Street which has a big reflection on most of our 401’s and other investments. Those things would be greatly enhanced if the onerous corporate tax rates were lowered.
All of us have the same opportunities in this country. Some just like feeling down trodden and at staying at the bottom.

posted by: shinningstars122 | November 20, 2014  7:15am


@17beachboy I hate to burst your bubble about the truth in who, and at what rates, US corporations pay taxes.

Sadly your statement is an over simplification of a much deeper and systemic problem.

Knock yourself out reading this report.

Art honestly corporations can pay better and still be profitable. I mean your statement is simply idiotic.

Corporations simply use profit as the only tool to justify, and measure, every business decision they make.

It barbaric and it becoming archaic as this form of capitalism will not exist 50 years from now.

It is simply unsustainable with 11 billion people on the Earth.

We all can not become mindless and materialistic consumers.

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