March 22, 2019
Earlier this week the Michigan Association of United Ways released a new ALICE report. It showed that ALICE households – those who are working yet still struggling to meet their basic needs – are a large and growing percentage of our population in Kent County.
In fact, from 2010 to 2017, the number of ALICE households increased by 4%. That’s largely because incomes have not kept up with the rising cost of living. 37% of households in Kent County are now living below the ALICE threshold.
With a problem this big, you might be wondering, “What can I do to help?” We’re glad you asked!
1. Volunteer Your Time
The Volunteer Center at United Way is the hub for service opportunities in Kent County. There are hundreds of opportunities to get involved. If you love language, sign up to tutor English-learners at the Literacy Center of West Michigan. Handy with power tools? Help a family get into a home of their own by working on a Habitat for Humanity project. Maybe your thing is healthy food. Become a Farm Market Assistant at SECOM and help families in southeast Grand Rapids access affordable, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The Volunteer Center is also embarking on a new project called Operation United. It’s a series of outdoor home repair and landscaping projects at the homes of local veterans. Find out how you can get involved.
2. Donate to the Community Fund
Heart of West Michigan United Way funds programs that support ALICE. When you give to our Community Fund, your donation supports programs in six issue areas, including housing, financial security, food, and youth education, that make a difference for working families and set kids up for success. In all, our Community Fund supports 45 programs that pull people out of crisis and set them on a path to long-term self-sufficiency.
Want an example of how the Community Fund helps ALICE? Read about how the Community Food Club helps working moms like Kara put healthy meals on the table.
3. Advocate for ALICE
Public policy has an important role to play in addressing the problems that confront ALICE here in Michigan. As we saw during Wednesday’s ALICE Action Day press conference in Lansing, this is a bipartisan issue. Republic State Senator Curt VanderWall discussed the need to support affordable childcare for working families, while House Democratic Leader Christine Greig brought attention to the challenge of low-wage work, citing the finding in this year’s ALICE report that 61% of jobs in our state pay less than $20 an hour.
With an issue as multifaceted as ALICE, it’s helpful to have a guide. The Michigan Association of United Ways outlines their top four policy priorities on their website. It’s an excellent place to start exploring.
4. Practice Empathy
This final thought is less an action than a way of living. All week, we’ve been debunking the stereotypes that confront those living below the ALICE threshold. A person’s financial difficulties do not define their worth. And in reality, many of us are more vulnerable than we’d like to think.
One of the most powerful statistics we discovered while creating this series comes from the Federal Reserve. It says that 4 in 10 Americans do not have enough money to weather a $400 emergency expense. That means every single one of us knows someone who lives on the edge of financial hardship – many of us have been there ourselves.
So we encourage you, as you interact with people at the grocery store, in church, and in your neighborhood, to see beyond the stereotypes. We are all, ultimately, in this together. And in order to create a thriving community, we all need to succeed.