Far more children face financial hardship than federal data used to measure poverty shows, according to a recently published United Way study.
The disparity is particularly acute in Florida, with its reliance on service sector jobs, according to the study that attempts to better track families struggling to meet basic needs.
During a virtual panel discussion on Tuesday, organized by United Way Florida, experts from the behavioral health, housing and business sectors came together to discuss the findings of the report, and noted the repercussions of poverty on health and well-being, as well as on the economy.
“You’re talking about trauma,” said Donna Wyche, who leads mental health and homelessness services in Orange County. “It’s the trauma of not having dinner, the trauma of going to school and not being prepared, the trauma of being bullied.”
Representatives from the Florida Coalition to End Homelessness and the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation also joined the discussion.
While the federal poverty level in the U.S. is often used as a standard measure of financial hardship in America, it was set in the early 1960s.
A decade ago, the United Way partnered with researchers to establish a new measurement that more accurately reflects the burden of rising costs and stagnant wages on working families.
The system of measurement — called the ALICE threshold — uses census data and cost of living adjustments specific to ZIP codes to identify households that don’t earn enough to afford necessities such as reliable transportation, child care, food, and housing. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. In short, it’s a measurement of the working poor.
The report published this month by the United Way uses the ALICE threshold to show the effect of financial hardship on children, including the effects on education, hunger and mental health. The report found that Florida had the third-highest rate in the nation of children living in households struggling to meet basic needs.
Although just 17 percent of children in Florida lived below the federal poverty level in 2019, “more than half of children in Florida (56 percent) lived in households experiencing financial hardship,” according to the report. That accounts for about 2.4 million children.
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Children of color were disproportionately affected, with 73 percent of Black children and 66 percent of Hispanic children falling below the ALICE threshold, compared to 42 percent of white children.
And having working parents didn’t guarantee stability. An astonishing 36 percent of Florida children living in households supported by two adults in the labor force still fell below the ALICE threshold in 2019, the report states.
“The level of panic and concern is at an all time high,” said Daniel Ramos, president of the Florida Coalition to End Homelessness.
To read the full report and to view more data, visit: https://www.unitedforalice.org/dashboard/focus-children