Almost half of working households in Manatee County struggle to pay for basic living expenses, according to a new report from United Way.
In its ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, the organization said that 44 percent of Manatee residents have issues with the cost of living in the area. As of 2016, 33 percent of Manatee residents earn income higher than the poverty line but still have trouble with essential bills such as transportation, housing and food.
Another 11 percent live below the poverty line.
Carolyn Griffin, director of strategic impact for United Way Suncoast, said ALICE is more than an acronym.
“It’s the person who is your child’s preschool teacher, the barber who cuts your hair, the person who served the meal at the restaurant,” Griffin said. “If you weren’t born wealthy, you may have been ALICE at one point in your life.”
Data from Manatee households is consistent with regional data throughout Southwest Florida, where 43 percent of residents aren’t able to cover basic needs, researchers said, but a lower percentage of people struggle in Sarasota County, according to the United Way. Thanks in part to higher median household income and a lower unemployment rate, only 37 percent of Sarasota residents struggle to keep up with the cost of living.
Of the 11 percent of Manatee households living in poverty, 37 percent of the households are led by a single woman and 40 percent are led by a single man. Griffin said there is a reason Manatee County struggles with poverty issues outside of rising rent and home prices.
“The answer is pretty simple,” she said. “Most jobs in Florida are associated with lower paying service sector jobs, most of which pay less than $20 an hour. In reality, most are less than $15.”
The household survivor budget, which measures an individual’s or family’s ability to survive based on their income, would require a combined wage of $59,000 for two adults and one infant child to “survive, not live,” in Manatee County, Griffin said.
A single person would need to make at least $22,000 to survive, “And again, we aren’t talking about amenities. We are talking the bare minimum of the cost of housing, food and transportation. There is no cushion for emergencies.”
According to a household survival budget included in the ALICE report, monthly housing costs for a single adult take up at least $711 a month, with transportation, health care and food gobbling up another $500 in expenses for a single adult in Manatee. About $1,800 a month go straight toward survival costs for single adults, researchers said.
“The ALICE reports show us that, although economic recovery is happening in our community, it’s not happening equally for everybody,” said Suzanne McCormick, CEO of United Way Suncoast. “When nearly half of the households in our community are on the financial edge, it’s clear we have to work together to address these big issues around housing, transportation and skilled employment opportunities for stronger families and a stronger economic region long-term.”
United Way Suncoast recently launched its Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Bronwyn Beightol, United Way Suncoast Manatee area president, said there are two priorities for the area’s children and they include safety and the quality of education.
With half of Manatee County fourth graders reading below grade level, there has to be an out-of-the-box way of thinking to find the solution, Beightol said.
“The tendency is to say what is our school district doing,” Beightol said. “The real question is what is this community doing?“
The United Way is working closely with the school district to compile data to target specific neighborhoods where clusters of below-grade-level reading is taking place and to develop programs to continue educational opportunities outside the classroom.
Cindy Cavallaro Day, director of grade-level reading strategies, said the United Way’s plan also is to target communities that attend chronically underperforming schools.
“Reading at grade level by third grade, students are four times more likely to graduate high school,” Cavallaro Day said. “This is our future workforce we are fighting for.”