Our Vision: ALICE Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Image: Daniel St. Pierre/freedigitalphotos.net

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed in six impossible things before breakfast.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

[Editor’s note: The following blog is by Chris Sargent, Interim CEO for United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region]

Over a year ago, our United Way put forth a vision for the region: A vibrant community where all people realize their full potential.

That vision captured a lot of people’s imagination. But every now and then I run into someone who says, “It sounds great, but you know that’s impossible, right?”

No, I don’t know that. I think our vision is doable. It must be, because the alternative isn’t acceptable.

The release of the latest ALICE report underscored that for me. ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed, includes people who are in poverty or just above the poverty level but struggling financially.

According to the report, 38 percent of households in the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo region—more than 58,000—can’t afford basic household necessities. Statewide, the number is 40 percent and 1.53 million households. And the data shows they’re losing the race, with household expenses rising 18 percent, well ahead of inflation.

As a region and as a society, we can’t be okay with this. When one family struggles, when one vulnerable child is left behind, we all lose.

That’s why United Way drives impact by leading shared efforts that engage diverse people, ideas and resources. We believe that, by working together in key areas, we can begin to address the needs of financially struggling households:

•    Decrease the cost of household basics, which is currently rising ahead of inflation. Focus areas could include a larger supply of affordable housing (market-rate or subsidized), public preschool, accessible and affordable health care, and more public transportation.

•    Improve job opportunities, ranging from growing wages to pursuing long-term growth of medium- and high-skilled jobs. The latter requires recruiting new businesses and industries, increasing training and education for workers, and policies supporting labor migration.

•    Help households adjust to fast-paced job change, including supports that allow people to pursue temporary and contract work during gaps in employment and avoid sliding deeper into hardship.

•    Accommodate changing demographics, such as rising populations of seniors and immigrants and declining number of married households with children. These groups have needs (housing, education, community services, etc.) quite different from the past.

•    Address institutional bias, which is rooted in long-time policies and practices that impede opportunities for African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic groups to succeed. UWBCKR places a priority on equity, diversity and inclusion in its activities; every program and partnership is assessed based on its impact on addressing bias and building equity. A video detailing UWBCKR’s equity work is available here: http://bit.ly/2nJWMEc.

•    Prepare for disasters, whether natural or man-made, as in the case of the Flint water crisis. Disasters impact low-income families far worse than those above the ALICE threshold.

Every one of our programs and partnerships in education, financial stability, health and basic needs aim to assist vulnerable individuals and families, especially those in or at risk of economic crisis. Our end goal is to deliver on the vision we’ve embraced.

It takes commitment. It takes hard work. It takes imagination.

So yes, I can imagine a time when ALICE doesn’t live here anymore—because all people will realize their full potential.


The ALICE report was released this week by the Michigan Association of United Ways and was funded in part by Consumers Energy Foundation. The complete report is available for download on our Income page. You can download a summary along with information for Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties here: ALICE Report summary Michigan Calhoun County Kalamazoo County 2017