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Washtenaw County doesn’t need more ALICE households

I have written about ALICE households before. Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) is the United Way’s designation for people who live (barely) above the poverty line. These households usually make too much to qualify for “safety net” services, yet don’t make enough to get by.

ALICE households come in all shapes and sizes. They can include single -adult and young adult households, households with small children, households with empty nesters, or even seniors who don’t have enough income to pay their monthly bills and eat.

Using data collected for the latest American Communities Survey, researchers at the Brookings Institution suggest that nearly 1 out of every 3 US households fits the definition of ALICE. That’s about 38 million households that are no closer to making ends meet this month than they were last month or the month before. If that’s the case, Washtenaw County likely has about 43,000 ALICE households, many of whom will be concentrated in Ypsilanti.

The largest monthly expense in most ALICE households is housing. Keep in mind that these households generate too much income to qualify for assistance but do not earn enough to pay bills, cover their other necessary expenses or even cover an emergency expense of $400.

If anyone doubts why the Washtenaw Community College administration needs to do a much better job of developing and providing programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand programs, it’s this.

Nearly one-third of the households here already struggle with the impact of low-wage jobs. We really do not need more low-wage, low-opportunity jobs here. Especially since it costs more to live in Washtenaw County than it costs to live in 98% of the state. If you’re going to live here, be prepared to pay 20% more for that privilege.

ALICE shouldn’t live here anymore

We need people working in higher paying jobs in Washtenaw County. We also need to be able to attract new employers and new industries here. Lack of economic opportunity here in Washtenaw County is costing us our prime-age workforce. Because we have not addressed this lack of opportunity, we are consigned to generating prime-age workers for other communities.

Come here. Study here. But for God’s sake, don’t plan to stay here. (That’s an awesome motto for Washtenaw County: “Come. Learn. Leave.”) But it is literally not what we need. And for some bizarre reason, WCC hands out discounted online education to everyone EXCEPT Washtenaw County students.

At some point, WCC needs to start working for the residents of Washtenaw County. If the current administration cannot recognize and prioritize the needs of Washtenaw County and its residents, then maybe it’s time for a new administration.

Photo Credit: slgckgc , via Flickr