(Originally published in The Times of NWI, Sunday, July 5, 2015)
My name is ALICE. You may know me very well, or I may be a complete stranger. I may be your next door neighbor or sit next to you on Sundays at church. I’d like to tell you my story. I am a single mother, working two jobs to support my thirteen and eight year old daughters. I work at the local supermarket during the day and as a home health care aid in the evenings. There’s a good chance I have been your cashier, or helped your aging relative. I rely heavily on the assistance of my parents and siblings to help with after school and evening care for my children, as the cost of child care is simply outside of my means.
I don’t make enough money to provide a great life for my daughters. I work really hard, but my combined salary from my two jobs puts me just over the threshold income level for me to receive any assistance.
Here’s how my morning has gone so far:
I’m debating about how to get to work this morning. I wonder if my car’s demise is just around the corner. It has been making strange noises for a week now and I need new tires. I can’t afford to go to the mechanic, but I need my car to get to and from my jobs.
I woke up with a throbbing pain in my mouth. I know I need to see a dentist, but neither of my jobs offer affordable dental insurance. I’ll just have to hope that the pain goes away.
As I am trying to figure out how to make the $30 in my checking account sustain me and my two children until the end of the week, my youngest comes in my room to tell me she has a headache. I take her temperature, and of course it’s a fever. My $30 will shrink to $20 after I picked up medicine at the store. I’m hoping my sister can help baby sit today. If I stay home with my sick child, I will not get paid.
The refrigerator is nearly empty. We need groceries. As I said earlier, we do not qualify for assistance because I make “too much money.” Yet the $20 I have will need to feed all of us and keep my car fueled. I guess I will ask a friend for a ride to work, again.
Yesterday I learned that my oldest child will be using a specialized calculator in her Algebra class and she of course needs it by Monday. Where am I going to find an extra $100 for a graphing calculator?
I suddenly have a gut wrenching feeling. The fees that my bank charges for my checking account will hit this week. I sure hope the money I spend on the medicine will not cause my bank account to go into overdraft.
Now what? Once the monthly banking fees hit, I will have less than $5 to last until the end of the month.
Do you know me? Does my story hit close to home? My actual name is not ALICE, however, the acronym ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) defines my life. I have two jobs. I earn more than the U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for the country. I am not alone in Northwest Indiana. Combined, the number of households like mine and the number of those below the poverty level equals 41% of the population in Lake County, 38% in LaPorte County and 28% in Porter County.
You may not be familiar with ALICE, but I urge you to learn more by reading the ALICE report. It will open your eyes to real need in our communities. So many ALICE families like mine are working hard and paying taxes. We support our community however we can. We aren’t looking for a hand out, but we need a hand up. If you sit back and think about it, how many more families could easily find themselves in the ALICE category? What would it take to put a family over the edge? A job loss? A medical emergency? Car problems?
Your local United Ways have been working toward advancing the common good in the core areas of education, financial stability and health. Supporting programs that make families stronger and lives better for our region residents. The ALICE report highlights real issues that need to be addressed. Can you lend a hand?
Please help us in raising awareness about ALICE and continuing the dialogue in your neighborhood. How can we, collectively, provide our ALICE neighbors the opportunity to succeed right here in Northwest Indiana. The full ALICE report can be found at: http://www.iauw.org/ALICE/. Or, to learn more, reach out to your local United Way.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.