Are You ALICE? 43 Percent of All Americans Are

The United Way has released a study on Americans they classify as ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The study found that this group does not make the money needed “to survive in the modern economy.” Are you ALICE, too?

The study found that 51 million American households struggle to pay for food and rent. No fewer than 48 percent of DC households, 39 percent of Maryland households, and 38 percent of Virginia households are ALICE. Disturbingly, as many as 59 percent of households in southwest Virginia cannot make monthly expenses.

Forty-three percent of [all U.S.] households
can’t afford the basics to live,
meaning they aren’t earning enough
to cover the combined costs
of housing, food, child care, health care,
transportation and a cellphone.

The U.S. economy isn’t as good as it seems,
Heather Long, Washington Post

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The ALICE population represents households that earn more than the official Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living.

Asset Limited

ALICE households have few or no assets to cushion against a financial crisis. More than 40 percent of American adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency. Even worse, more than a quarter of adults went without necessary medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. ALICE households lack assets such as savings, retirement accounts, or home equity that can be tapped in the case of an emergency. Asset-limited households suffer from a financial fragility that affects every aspect of their daily lives.

Income Constrained

From 1979 to 2007, the top 1 percent of Americans have quadrupled their incomes. During that time, the other 99 percent of Americans saw no material net increase. The simple truth is that 48 million American households save no money because they have no money to save. Low-income and middle-income workers are often paid far less than what they need to make ends meet. And these Americans have no meaningful trajectory for earnings growth.


ALICE households are employed, but working paycheck to paycheck. The U.S. unemployment rate recently fell to an astonishing 3.8 percent, but that number just ain’t what it used to be. Wage growth has flattened, recoveries from recessions have lengthened, and the cost of living has risen.

Are you ALICE, too?

The U.S. economy is currently humming along. Yet the U.S. poverty rate of 17.2 percent is one of the highest among world’s developed countries. The United Way report makes clear that a robust economy do not evenly benefit all Americans. Are you ALICE, too?

As U.N.-supported human rights expert Philip Alston recently observed, “Particularly in a rich country like the United States, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power.” Nothing will change until our elected officials begin seriously to address the concerns of ALICE Americans.

About Brian V. Lee 394 Articles
Brian V. Lee provides bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, business turnaround, and litigation services to clients in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland. Brian was the Washington, D.C. state chair of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys from 2016 to 2018.