WATERLOO — At least 41 percent of Black Hawk County residents don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care and transportation, according to the United Way ALICE Project.
ALICE stands for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed. The report looks at Black Hawk County numbers from 2016.
“This report tells us that ALICE does indeed live in Iowa and in our communities,” said Sheila Baird, Cedar Valley United Way president, in a press release. “This data allows us to see an often unseen population.”
The data in the report comes from the US Census.
In Iowa, 37 percent of the state’s population, 457,077 households, can’t afford the state’s cost of living.
Nationwide, 51 million can’t afford a basic middle class life. That’s 43 percent of households in the United States.
The survival budget comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the food budget is based on U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan and transportation costs comes the U.S. Consumer and Expenditure survey, Baird said.
“For Black Hawk County the number of overall households is down, albeit so slightly that there is no change,” Baird said. “The issue is costs continue to rise, so even though there might be a slight increase or improvement, the bottom line is its so slight it’s hardly noticeable.”
According to the report, 16 percent of Black Hawk residents lived below the federal poverty line in 2016. In 2010, 15 percent of Black Hawk County residents lived below the federal poverty line, in 2012 and 2014 it was 14 percent, Baird said.
Many people can have an unexpected problem that catapults them into poverty.
“They’re one crisis away,” Baird said.
Fourteen percent of residents in Black Hawk County are food insecure, said Barbara Prather, Northeast Iowa Food Back director.
“That means they lack access to adequate supply of food,” Prather said. Among the 14 percent, 42 percent don’t qualify for all applicable federal programs and 38 percent don’t qualify for any food assistance.
“What we see is more and more people are working, they have some sort of income but they don’t have enough money to have a fully nutritious diet,” Prather said. “It’s just another symptom of the overall problem with people living in poverty or not having enough to meet their basic needs.”
The numbers aren’t surprising for Baird or Prather.
“It’s not like they’ve given up. They still work every day,” Baird said.
The medium household income in Black Hawk County is $50,348 according to U.S. Census data.
“You have people that might’ve retired, and then all of the sudden they might be raising one of their grandchildren. You have people that are working, but they are working low-wage jobs,” Prather said. “They might be working two or three jobs and can’t make ends meet. Life happens.”
Hunger is a symptom of the overall picture, Prather said.
“If you can’t feed your family, how can you study? How can you go to school?” Prather said. “I don’t see it getting any better.”