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Report: More than one-third of Iowa households unable to afford basic living costs

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The latest United Way ALICE report has found that more than one-third of Iowa’s households are unable to afford the state’s cost of living.

The 2018 ALICE report — it stands for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed — states that 457,044 Iowa households, or 37 percent of the state’s total, are unable to meet basic needs. The percentage was 31 percent in 2016.

The report spotlights those who work at low-paying jobs, have little to no savings and are considered one emergency away from falling into poverty.

This year, about 12 percent of Iowa’s households live below the federal poverty level. An additional 25 percent, while considered above the poverty threshold, are unable to cover basic expenses like housing, food, transportation and health and child care.

In 2010, 12 percent of Iowa households were under the poverty line and another 18 percent were under the ALICE threshold.

“This really shows that many, many more people than that are struggling, even if they’re hard working. It’s not people who just don’t want to work. It’s people that are working hard trying to make the best of their lives every day,” Shane Orr, with United Way of Muscatine and United Ways of Iowa’s board chairman, said in a Tuesday media call.

Leah Rodenberg of Alliant Energy Foundation, the ALICE report’s presenting sponsor, said, “As a provider of energy services to Iowans, we know many of our customers struggle with their basic household budgets. This data will provide a greater understanding of the struggles of hardworking families in each of our 99 counties and the conditions that define their financial hardships.”

The 2018 ALICE report also found the statewide cost of a family budget increased by 41 percent from 2010 to 2016 — to more than $56,000 for a family of four.

That’s more than four times the national rate of inflation, which was about 9 percent.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Iowa’s jobs pay less than $20 an hour, which results in an annual income of $41,600 before taxes.

But while state and local lawmakers have clashed over Iowa’s minimum wage rules, with the state last year keeping the statewide minimum at $7.25 an hour, employee pay is just one piece of the puzzle, the report’s lead researcher Stephanie Hoopes said.

Other areas include the shifting work populations as millennials become a more prominent part of the workforce and baby boomers enter retirement; instability in the market through economic disruptions or natural disasters; and growing inequality in health care — as medicine advances, it becomes more expensive.

“Sadly, there is no single solution to fix the challenges so many in Iowa face,” Orr said. “These challenges are complex and interwoven.”


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