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Florida households increasingly struggle to pay for necessities, major report shows

FILE - David Moimeme loads prepared meals into a vehicle as United Way of Broward County partners with the Miami Dolphins football team to distribute backpacks and meals to military families in need during the coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/AP
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AP
FILE - David Moimeme loads prepared meals into a vehicle as United Way of Broward County partners with the Miami Dolphins football team to distribute backpacks and meals to military families in need during the coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Nearly half the households in Florida are struggling to make financial ends meet, according to a closely watched report by the United Way.

The nonprofit charity fundraiser organization produces the annual ALICE report— which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” — to track the number of households that fall above the federal poverty level but make less than what it takes to live comfortably in a local community’s economy.

The 2024 report shows that 46% of Florida households — more than 4 million households — are straining to pay for necessities like food, rent and transportation. That number includes the 1.1 million households in poverty and 2.9 million households that meet the ALICE criteria.

 Miami-Dade County households fared worse, with 53% facing financial hardship, followed by Broward County (48%) and Palm Beach County (47%). The Florida Keys fared slightly better at 43%.

The report pulls data from more than 20 state and federal bodies of research including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The ALICE report is a way to talk about things that are hidden in plain sight in the community,” said Leah Stockton, the Keys area president for United Way of Collier and the Keys.

The findings from this year’s update are consistent with a more than decade-long trend. From 2010 to 2022, households in poverty in Florida grew by 8% and ALICE households grew by 27%.

While wages for low-paying jobs have grown in Florida, so too have costs.

“The largest increases were food and transportation,” Stockton said. “The price of cars has gone up, interest rates have gone up, insurance costs have gone up, etc.”

The other big change, Stockton said, was that families have fewer tax credits.

“If you remember, during COVID, anyone that had young children there were tax credits that you were getting due to having dependents,” she said, “Those have largely gone away now.”

Nearly 30 million Americans got extra government help with grocery bills during the pandemic. That aid ended last February.

The 2024 ALICE report is based on data from two years ago, though Stockton said the 2022 data is still relevant.

“It's starting to show as we come out of COVID, what the landscape looks like post-COVID,” she said.

ALICE in Northwest Florida

Households in Northwest Florida fare better that parts of South Florida, but show pockets of poverties in specific communities. In Okaloosa and County, 30% of households fall below ALICE, the same for Walton. Escambia County follows at 29%, and Santa Rosa at 26%.

Breaking that down in specific communities, 49% of households in Century are ALICE households The highest rate is in DeFuniak Springs with 56%. North Okaloosa County and Milton also have rates higher than 40%.

ALICE in the Florida Keys

Stockton said the 43% of households in the Florida Keys plodding to financially survive translates into "a lot of people in our community that live on the edge, one emergency away from falling further behind into poverty."

“One crisis, whether it's a hurricane, whether it's losing your job, having a serious illness, whatever it may be, can just set off a chain reaction that takes months, years, or people sometimes never fully recover from in their life," Stockton said.

ALICE households are identified by whether or not the income earned exceeds a ‘survival budget’ that’s calculated based on estimates of the cost of household essentials, including housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, technology, as well as taxes and a 10% contingency in each U.S. county. The survival budget does not include savings for emergencies or future goals like retirement or college.

“This budget is the bare minimum cost to live and work in a location. It's not really intended to be sustainable over time,” Stockton said. “It really just shows what it takes to make ends meet, and then illustrates how many people fall below that.”

What it takes to make ends meet in Monroe County rose significantly between the last two ALICE reports. A family of four, which would include two adults and two children in childcare, must now make $98,136 a year to stay above ALICE status.

“You have to be making almost $100,000 as a family, and you're still living paycheck to paycheck,” Stockton said.

The percentage of ALICE households has also been broken down by area. In the Upper Keys, 45% of households fall below the ALICE threshold. In the Middle and Lower Keys, it’s 46% and 38% respectively.

In Key West, 44% of households fall below ALICE.

“ALICE is your server at your local restaurant. ALICE might be getting a job, pouring you your morning cup of coffee, educating your grandchild, delivering your mail, taking out your garbage on your weekly pickup," said Stockton. "ALICE is who makes our community possible. But ALICE also faces incredibly difficult decisions on a daily basis just because of the reality of the cost of living."

Copyright 2024 WLRN Public Media

Julia Cooper