Houston Matters

Study: Over 40% Of Harris County Households Struggle To Afford Basic Needs

The research looked at households that are above the poverty line, but still struggle to pay for basic needs.

Anna Babin (left), president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston, and DJ Johnson, a college and career advisor at Houston’s Sterling High School, stopped by Houston Matter’s to discuss a new report by United Way of Greater Houston.

Nearly 30 percent of households in Harris County are above the poverty line, but cannot afford basic needs, according to a new report by United Way of Greater Houston.

United Way refers to this population as ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It encompasses people who are above the federal poverty line, but still struggle to pay for housing, food, and other needs. According to data from 2016, 28 percent of households in Harris County are ALICE households.

When combined with the 15 percent of households that live at or below the poverty line, it means that 43 percent of Harris County households are unable to cover basic needs.

“This data is so important because it is sound and objective research that really tells us the breadth and depth of the number of people who are really struggling to make ends meet,” Anna Babin, the President and CEO of United Way Greater Houston, told Houston Matters. “And this could be anyone ranging from your grocery store attendant, it could be an administrative assistant at an oil and gas office, it could be your childcare worker — and they are making above the federal poverty limit, but they have the bare bones household budget to survive.”

For Harris County, a family of four with a household budget of $61,404 is considered an ALICE household, compared to the poverty level of $23,400. 

“When we talk about a household budget, we’re talking about the basics. We’re talking about housing costs, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, and a nominal technology like a smartphone to stay connected with work and teachers,” Babin said. “And there’s no frills in there – there’s no savings, there’s no extra.”

DJ Johnson is currently a college and career adviser at Houston’s Sterling High School, and came from an ALICE background. He told Houston Matters that the findings resonated with him.

“Struggling each and every day is something that many of us ALICE individuals have been through,” he said. “We sometimes find it hard just making different decisions, whether that’s are you going to pay this bill or are you going to pay that bill? You find yourself limited in your choosings all the time.”

In Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, 22 percent of households were ALICE households, compared to 34 percent in Waller County. While this report used data from 2016, Babin said the goal is to update the report every two years.

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