We all know the stereotypes. Poor people are lazy. They don’t want to work. The thing is: It’s simply not true.

According to a 2014 UC Davis report, the majority of those in poverty between ages 18 and 64 who are not disabled or attending school did in fact work in the previous year. But for many people in our community, working hard isn’t enough.

In fact, 28% of Kent County households are Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, and Employed. These ALICE families are earning incomes above the federal poverty level but still struggling to afford the basics like food, housing, medical care, and transportation. Here in Kent County, 9% of households are living in poverty and 28% are ALICE. Together, a staggering 37% are having trouble meeting their basic needs.

Why? One reason is that the cost of living is increasing faster than media household income. In Grand Rapids, between June 2011 and June 2017, the median rent for a single-family apartment grew 59.2%, while from 2011 to 2017 median household income in Grand Rapids increased just 14.6%.

Some household budgets are so squeezed that at one point in 2018, 200 local households were on a waiting list to get into shelters in Grand Rapids, leading to the creation of the Fulton Manor Family Emergency Shelter.

The good news: Together we can make a difference. Find out how we’re tearing down barriers for ALICE.





The 2019 ALICE report shows that the number of households who are working yet still struggling has actually increased. In fact, from 2010 to 2017 the number of ALICE households grew by 2%. Because of the rising cost of living and relatively flat wages, many families who were formerly self-sufficient have fallen below the ALICE threshold.

So what is the ALICE threshold? It depends on where you live and the number of people in your household.

For a family comprised of 2 adults, 1 infant, and 1 preschooler living in Kent County, the annual Household Survival Budget – the amount that a family needs to earn in order to guarantee that they can afford all their monthly costs – is $64,788. That’s an increase of $8,328 from 2015. (In addition to increased costs across the board, the budget now includes a $75/month technology expense. Think about it: Can you imagine applying for work, communicating with your family and your boss, or getting important emergency alerts without a computer or smartphone?)

For a single adult in Kent County, the Household Survival Budget is much lower. That makes sense because an individual doesn’t have to worry about feeding a child or paying for daycare. Still, to live above the ALICE threshold, a single adult has to earn $10.81 per hour, more than a dollar higher than Michigan’s minimum wage.

Watch the full Myths of Poverty series on our YouTube channel.