Groundbreaking Study Reveals Four Out of Ten Households Struggle to Afford Basics

January 18, 2016


Groundbreaking Study Reveals Four Out of Ten Households Struggle to Afford Basics

Salem, Ore. – Forty-One percent of households in the Mid-Willamette Valley are unable to afford the area’s cost of living according to United Way’s ALICE Report released today by United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The ALICE Report is a study of financial hardship that shines a light on the large population of hardworking residents who despite the fact they are employed, struggle to afford the basics of housing, health care, child care, food and transportation.  They have little or no savings, and are one emergency from falling into poverty – or worse, becoming homeless.   

“We all know ALICE,” said United Way Chief Executive Officer Randall Franke “ALICE is the recent college graduate unable to afford to live on his or her own, the young family strapped by child care costs and the mid-career professional now underemployed. ALICE is your neighbor, your child care provider, the technician who draws your blood, the nursing assistant that cares for your aging parent. These folks are vital to our community’s economic well-being, and they face barriers to financial stability that are beyond their control.”

There are 46,909 households in Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties that fall into what United Way calls the ALICE population. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living. This number is nearly double the official poverty rate, which accounts for 27,283 households in the same three-county region. Combined, ALICE and poverty households, account for forty-one percent of all households in Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties.

United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley has joined a grassroots movement of some 250 United Ways in 10 states to use the same methodology for documenting financial need, building on a United Way study first developed in New Jersey. The ALICE Report provides county-by-county and city-level data, and analysis of how many households are struggling. And equally important it explores the obstacles ALICE households face on the road to financial independence.

The ALICE Report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in the state to date, using the latest data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census. The Report unveils new measures, based on income levels and expenses that quantify the size of our workforce who are struggling financially and why.

“This report provides the objective data that explains why so many residents are struggling to survive and the challenges they face in attempting to make ends meet,” said the report’s lead researcher, United Way ALICE Project National Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D. “Until now, the true picture of need in local communities and states has been understated and obscured by misleading averages and outdated poverty statistics.”


The United Way ALICE Report reveals:

  • ALICE is men and women, young and old, of all races, closely mirroring the state’s basic demographic make-up. In our three-county region, forty-percent are within their prime wage-earning years of 45 to 64 years old.
  • 50% of homeowners and renters in our region are “cost burdened”, spending more than 30% of their income on housing.
  • 33 cities in the Mid-Willamette Valley have at least thirty-percent of their households unable to make ends meet.  In 11 of those cities, that number rises to above fifty-percent.
  • In our region the annual income needed to afford the basic necessities ranges from $51,360 to $54,324 for a family of four. This is more than double the official U.S. poverty rate.
  • Despite the combination of ALICE’s wages and some public assistance, ALICE households still face a significant income gap in order to reach financial stability.

“ALICE often is forced to make choices that compromise health and safety in order to make ends meet,” said Mr. Franke “putting both ALICE and the wider community at risk of long-term societal and economic repercussions.  When ALICE chooses unlicensed child care, longer commutes or emergency room health care in order to put food on the table we all suffer the consequences with future costs to our education system, heavier traffic and higher premiums.”

United Way is committed to looking beyond emergency Band-Aids, working collectively in the region to provide long-term solutions that will strengthen our communities.  United Way is focused on providing the basic foundation in the areas of education, financial stability and health to help improve the lives of both ALICE and those in poverty.

The United Way ALICE Report was funded in part by corporate sponsors including AT&T, Atlantic Health System, Deloitte, Entergy, Novartis and The UPS Foundation. To read the full ALICE Report visit For more information contact Randall Franke at 503-559-0872 or 503-363-1651, Ext. 305 or visit



United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley was established in 1937 and remains committed to supporting Marion, Polk and Yamhill communities by addressing community-wide issues and barriers so that children, youth, and adults achieve their potential. United Way improves lives by focusing on the building blocks of a good life: Education, Financial Stability, Health and Basic Needs. For more information about the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley call (503) 36