United Way says 22% of residents earn less than state's basic cost of living threshold

Milford’s United Way says the American Dream is slipping away for many residents because they are not earning enough to live a middle class lifestyle.

“The American Dream is that if you work hard, you can expect to get ahead financially,” Gary Johnson, United Way director, said in a press release. “For most of us, that means you can save money; buy a reliable car; purchase a home if you want; afford quality childcare; send your children to college; handle unexpected expenses; pay for your family's health care; and take family vacations.”

But that promise is slipping away for many hard-working Milford families, Johnson said.

“Increasingly, hard work alone may not buy you a ticket into the middle-class and a chance to live the American dream,” he said.

Johnson’s comments stem from a Connecticut United Ways study of the financial hardship faced by many working families throughout the state. The study reports that 35% of Connecticut households can barely afford life's necessities.

“This number of households far exceeds the number of households identified by the official federal poverty statistics,” Johnson’s press release states. “We have known that about 5% of Milford's households live in poverty, but we have overlooked the 22% of households with income above the Federal Poverty Level but below the state's basic cost-of-living threshold defined in the United Way report.”

United Way calls this often overlooked population ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

The United Ways in Connecticut produced the recently-released report in partnership with United Ways in five other states — California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey, with Rutgers University conducting the research. The purpose of the study was to raise awareness of the plight of the ALICE population and to encourage short-term and long-term strategies that promote financial stability for many of these households.

“The reality that Connecticut has a higher percentage of affluent individuals and families than most other states often overshadows the fact that far too many residents face a very different reality — and that far too many of us are unaware of how this affects the overall social and economic viability of our communities,” Johnson said.

ALICE represents the men and women in Milford's households of all ages and races who get up each day to go to work, but who aren't sure if they'll be able to make ends meet.

The United Way press release says that “ALICE is our friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives. ALICE does essential work that we depend on, and contributes to our community's well being.”

ALICE's insufficient income is a bigger problem than we may realize, the press release continues. Unable to afford or get easy access to health care, ALICE may be a frequent user of the emergency room for health problems that could have been prevented.

Unable to afford high-quality preschool, ALICE's children may require additional help later in school. The loss of a job may mean that, with no savings to fall back on, ALICE may need government help to pay for rent or food.

Or, if ALICE is a homeowner, they may go into foreclosure.

“These are devastating problems for a family but these issues also have a broader impact on health insurance premiums, taxes, neighborhood stability, and economic growth,” Johnson said.

The ALICE study reports that the annual household survival budget for the average family of four (two adults, one toddler and one infant) in Milford is $66,088 and for a single adult it is $24,618. Even with one of the highest median hourly wages in the country, 51% of jobs in Connecticut pay less than $20 per hour, which is $40,000 a year if the job is full time.

Johnson said it is time to acknowledge the population of people in the community who struggle as part of this ALICE population and start looking at ways to address the need.