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Study: Some Floridians Still Struggling Financially

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Nearly half of the people living and working in Florida still struggle to make ends meet after the Great Recession, according to a new study from the United Way.

Deanna Willsey, chief marketing officer for United Way Suncoast, said that includes Floridians such as Chandra, a working mother of three in Sulphur Springs.

While Chandra's income doesn’t fall below the federal poverty line, she and her children were still living paycheck to paycheck, leaving them vulnerable because the tight budget didn't allow her to save money.

Willsey said it only got worse when Chandra lost her job.

“She…fell into a really difficult time,” said Willsey, who did not disclose Chandra's last name to protect her privacy. “She is now actually separated from her kids because she had to have her kids live with her mom while she was living in another house.”

Chandra and her children are considered an Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) household, a term that applies to 41 percent of working adults in West and Central Florida, according to the United Way report released Wednesday.

The report analyzes the amount of people in a given area who are not impoverished, but who still struggle to put together a “survival budget.”

Chandra reached out to United Way, where Willsey said she learned valuable skills that helped her get a better job, where she currently works full-time. She was recently promoted to a store manager position.

“That’s not necessarily the face of someone that the community thinks of when they think about who’s struggling in the Tampa Bay area,” Willsey said. “It is folks that are trying really hard and sometimes just need a helping hand up, not necessarily a hand out.”

The federal government measures poverty for individuals making less than $11,000 per year or families with two parents and two young children making less than $24,000 per year. By contrast, the ALICE threshold includes individuals making less than $19,000 per year and families making less than $54,000 per year. 

These people, though not destitute, still often live paycheck to paycheck, Willsey said.

“They are not making enough to get by on a regular basis, or you know they are one crisis away from falling into poverty or falling into a really desperate situation because money is so tight,” she said.

The ALICE report, which is released every two years, aims to pinpoint exactly where in the region people are struggling and where improvements are still needed post-recession.

“This is complex stuff. If it was easy, the community would have fixed it already, but dealing with transportation and housing, childcare expenses, wages; it’s all really complicated. So this report helps to provide context,” Willsey said.

She emphasized that when the working poor suffer, the entire economy bears the consequences.

“[ALICE] is more than 40 percent of the economy. This is new college grads, this is underemployed professionals, this is childcare professionals, teachers,” Willsey said. “This is a very important part of our community and it’s an overlooked part of our community.”

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