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New study finds nearly half of Oregon households struggle to earn enough for the basics

Four smiling children
Courtesy of Rio Annsa
The kids in the Annsa family range in age from 15 to 5 years old. Mom Rio Annsa says as an ALICE household, they often have to make hard choices between expenses such as clothes and haircuts or doing something fun as a family, like going to the movies.

New data from the United Way finds nearly half of Oregon households are earning barely enough to get by from month to month. The ALICE report sheds light on a growing section of the population once called the “working poor.”

ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. In Lane County, over 74,000 households currently fall in this category—earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the current economy.

Rio Annsa’s family of six is one of those households. Both parents have full-time jobs and yet they cannot get ahead.

“We’ve actually a couple times in the past had to raid our retirement accounts because those are literally the only savings that we have," Annsa said. "And so, we have traded in our retirement, our future wellness, for things like rent.”

The ALICE update on financial hardship shows that while wages increased, so did costs for basics like rent, food and gas.

Annsa said it’s “nerve wracking” to not have enough resources in case of emergency. At the same time that they got pay raises and cost of living adjustments at work, their rent went up $100 per month.

“It is always a struggle,” Annsa said. “It seems like we should be doing well but we never actually are. It’s paycheck to paycheck and having to really think about what to do with the little bit of money left over after paying for rent, utilities, car payments. We budget for clothes, food, haircuts. We have almost no time together as a family. It’s hard.”

United Way of Lane County said it will use the updated ALICE report data to “engage top leadership from every sector to develop strategies that will change systems and invests in programs and services that address current social crises.”

To read the update and access online interactive dashboards that provide data on financial hardship at the state, county and local levels, visit UnitedforALICE.org/Oregon.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.