Nearly 500,000 Households in Region Are Employed Yet Cannot Afford the Basics

Nearly 500,000 Households in Region Are Employed Yet Cannot Afford the Basics

United Way of the National Capital Area (United Way NCA) in partnership with United for ALICE today released its new report, ALICE in the Crosscurrents (ALICE Report), which sheds light on the financial hardship of the nearly 500,000 households in the National Capital Area who are working yet cannot afford the basics in the communities where they live.

ALICE, a United Way NCA acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, represents the growing number of individuals and families working but unable to afford basic necessities, such as food, healthcare, childcare, transportation expenses and more. The ALICE Report integrates the ALICE population across the DC Metro Area with disaggregated County level data in the National Capital Area. The reality is that 664,711 households in the National Capital Area – 33% – had income below the ALICE Threshold or minimum income level necessary for survival for a household. That calculation includes the 176,744 households at or below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) and another 487,967 families defined as ALICE. Nationwide,16.2 million households are at or below the Federal Poverty Line and another 36.3 million are ALICE.

“What we’re seeing is a mismatch between earnings and the increasing cost of basic necessities,” said Rosie Allen-Herring, President and CEO, United Way of the National Capital Area. “ALICE families have been overlooked and undercounted by traditional poverty measures. While the FPL is updated yearly, the Census Bureau determines poverty status using thresholds dating back to 1963. The antiquated Federal Poverty Line, the fact that ALICE households may not qualify for federal benefits or safety nets, and the increased cost of living over time as inflation continues to rise, all contribute to the growing number of ALICE households.”

Every two years, United Way NCA releases an ALICE report that provides data on where ALICE lives in the region, who they are, and more. Until now, in this region, these reports were only available in the states of Maryland and Virginia, but for the first time, Washington, DC is included in the 2023 report, which enables United Way NCA to provide a true picture of ALICE and critical information that can help guide efforts in uplifting all National Capital Area residents. It helps reshape how United Way NCA and its partners understand regional financial hardships and the ongoing challenges many community members face today. Racism, discrimination, and systemic barriers limit families’ access to resources and opportunities for financial stability.

ALICE is the nation’s childcare workers, home health aides and cashiers heralded during the pandemic – those working low-wage jobs with little or no savings and one emergency from poverty. Daily they are faced with making difficult decisions on whether to spend their earnings on healthcare or food. ALICE may be your neighbor, your colleague, your friend or even a family member.

According to the ALICE in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship report, an ALICE Household Survival Budget for a family of four in the National Capital Area in 2021 was $101,281, well above the poverty line at $26,500 and well above the full-time earnings for most low-wage jobs in the region. The ALICE Household Survival Budget for ALICE shows how earnings are stretched thin and insufficient to meet the minimum monthly household expenses of those employed.

For example, in the National Capital area, a retail salesperson (one of the most common occupations) earned an average hourly wage of $14.21, short of the $23.81 hourly wage needed to meet the ALICE Household Survival Budget for one worker employed full-time, much less for a family with children. Moreover, of the 2 million households in the area, more than 84% are located outside the District. As a result, many ALICE workers live outside the District, where housing is less expensive but adds the costs of commuting (monthly avg. $250-$550 depending on the household), and extra time to travel, which could contribute to an increase in childcare (already over $2000 monthly with two children in childcare).

To illustrate, a family of four with two parents working full time in two of the most common occupations (retail salesperson and cashier) earning a combined $58,500 annually could not afford the Household Survival Budget in 2021–in DC $92,736, Maryland $101,760, and Virginia $101,913 – even with the $20,800 in assistance through the expanded Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and the Economic Impact Payments. 

“At United Way NCA our goal is to reduce disparities across all three pillars of health, education and economic opportunity and improve outcomes for individuals and families in the National Capital Area, particularly for our ALICE population,” added Allen-Herring. “We cannot do this work alone, so we’re calling on community organizations and partners to join us.”

The ALICE in the Crosscurrents for United Way NCA was funded by Greater Washington Community Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. To read the report and access online, interactive dashboards that provide data on financial hardship in the National Capital Area, visit