‘ALICE’ provides a path forward for underserved

by Stephen Coger ([email protected]) 483 views 

Every day, we meet Arkansans suffering under heavy loads. The dad who puts in long hours as a janitor at a local public school but can barely afford medications for his child and elderly parent. The health aide who lovingly cares for seniors at a nursing center yet can’t provide for her family due to the rising costs of rent and food. Immigrants and refugees who have overcome indescribable trauma to obtain steady jobs with newly-secured work permits but still can’t afford safe housing or reliable vehicles. These stories, while unfortunate, are often common in our state.

Right now, there are 474,000 households in Arkansas without the means to live lives of choice, security or freedom. These Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) households account for an estimated 41% of our state’s population. Sadly, every Arkansas community knows ALICE. They’re present in every town, city and county, and they include all races, ethnicities and family makeups.

ALICE is visible thanks to a recently released ALICE in Arkansas report, conducted with support from Entergy Arkansas, United Way and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The report tells us that ALICE households have annual incomes above the federal poverty line at approximately $46,000 and below for a family of four and $18,000 or less for an individual adult. But without a living wage, they struggle to put food on their tables or afford basic necessities like housing, childcare, transportation and healthcare. A single medical issue, sudden need for a mechanic or, worse, a national emergency like COVID-19 is enough to indefinitely derail their aspirations. In short, the federal poverty guidelines are no guide to finding ALICE in Arkansas.

Since 2007, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and serve ALICE households from across the state as a nonprofit paralegal and attorney. I’ve seen these individuals performing back-breaking work day in and day out in order to provide for themselves and their families. Despite their best efforts, they are trapped in an unending cycle of poverty. These Arkansas workers are fueling our economy by supporting our small businesses, cooking our food, educating our children and caring for our elders. Despite their service to our economy, our economy simply is not serving them. And it’s time for that to change.

As children, we’re often promised if we work hard that we can earn a decent living, take care of our families, give back to the community and hopefully leave the world a better place for the next generation. For ALICE households in Arkansas, achieving this American Dream has been deferred for far too long.

But we have the opportunity to change that and #StandUpforALICE. With data from the ALICE in Arkansas report, available at aliceinar.org, we have the impetus, tools and roadmap we need to relentlessly pursue long-lasting change in our state.

I urge all Arkansans — whether advocates, government officials or residents — to do their part to help ALICE households and communities escape the relentless cycle of poverty. Together, we can tackle persistent challenges such as a lack of affordable childcare and housing. We can develop new pathways for workers to learn more and, hopefully, earn more. We can remove persistent barriers to capital and credit that have often stood in the way of individuals starting or sustaining small businesses. By encouraging our state to adopt these types of long-term policies and program solutions, I believe we can create a new Arkansas economy — one where all workers can earn a living wage and have a stronger future. All we have to do is #StandUpforALICE.

Stephen Coger is the director of Arkansas Immigrant Defense in Springdale. The opinions expressed are those of the author.