Nearly Half of U.P. Households Struggle to Make Ends Meet

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Rural Insights or its members.

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When the conversation of poverty comes up, it can easily break down into two categories. Those who are employed are above the poverty level, and those who are unemployed are considered below the poverty level.

However, Upper Peninsula families–even those who are employed–are having a harder time making ends meet. ALICE, which stands for “Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed” is a measure used by the United Way as a “new way of defining and understanding the struggles of households that earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford a bare-bones household budget.”

Today, the percentage of ALICE households in the Upper Peninsula is 46.6%, meaning that almost half of U.P. residents are close to a financial breaking point in the family budget compared to the 39.7% in 2010.

According to Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count Project Coordinator for the Michigan League for Public Policy, the ALICE statistic is “another measure of economic security. Beyond poverty, it tells us how households are able to make ends meet. Michigan families continue to face hardships, including those in the Upper Peninsula.” 

Kids Count is a report put out by the Michigan League for Public Policy. This wide-ranging report takes a look at various statistics in terms of child welfare and social stability through a variety of data.

Looking at the numbers for the Upper Peninsula and its 15 counties, there are many good trend lines, such as the total percentage of children in poverty has decreased and the percentage of young people (ages 18-24) in poverty has stabilized over the last decade.  

Breaking down the U.P. ALICE numbers by county, Alger, Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Luce, and Schoolcraft Counties have at least 50% of their households within the ALICE threshold or below the poverty line itself.

It is also worth noting that Chippewa, Dickinson, Iron, Marquette, and Ontonagon counties have at least 45% of their households living within the ALICE threshold as well.

These numbers demonstrate that a lot of families in the majority of U.P. counties are having a difficult time balancing the checkbook each month with mortgage or rent payments, car loans, cell phone bills, wireless internet, and groceries, and many are struggling to get by. 

When a family is facing limited resources, they could be forced to make budget cuts, resulting in negative effects on their children.  Regular meals might be missed, children will lack social interaction with fellow students if school districts have to revert to online-only learning, and with parents having to work multiple shifts, the accountability and oversight of their kids might not be as strong. “Childrens’ brains and bodies are constantly developing. Any day we don’t meet their needs is a missed opportunity we can never get back.” Perdue stated. 

Given the uncertain economic outlook for the next few months (and maybe years), a simple check engine light, the need to purchase a laptop for a child’s online learning, or having to cook more meals for family members who are working remotely and out of work can all mean the difference for whether a family will be able to pay their bills or build any sort of savings.

In a post-pandemic world, action will need to be taken to improve the safety net, and possibly look at what could be done to help the millions of Americans and more than 100,000 Yoopers who work full-time yet often cannot afford the basic necessities of life.

For more information on the Kids Count report and the Michigan League for Public Policy, please visit their website at https://mlpp.org/kids-count/.

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Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer is currently the Director for the Educational Talent Search program at Vincennes University in Vincennes Indiana. A Marquette native, he previously worked for State Rep. John Kivela from 2013-2017, and the Mason County College Access Network from 2017-19. He has a bachelors degree in communications from Siena Heights University and a masters degree in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education from Michigan State University in 2019.

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