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Nearly half of South Carolina households are financially burdened, according to ALICE

More than four in ten South Carolinians live below the ALICE threshold. They work, but are unable to get ahead with their earnings.
United Way
More than four in ten South Carolinians live below the ALICE threshold. They work, but are unable to get ahead with their earnings.

Are you ALICE?

It stands for “Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed,” and it refers to those whose earnings are above the federal poverty line (FPL), but not enough to live particularly well.

The term, coined by the United Way, is an attempt to reframe the conversation about what it means to be financially burdened. And to answer that opening question – are you ALICE? – the odds are pretty good that you either are or know someone who is.

The metrics center on U.S. Census data and factor the effects of expenses like rent or mortgage, food, transportation, healthcare, and technology on a household (not necessarily individual) budget.

Nationally, United Way calculates that 29 percent of American Households are at the ALICE threshold – earning above the FPL but not enough to afford the basics in the communities where they live.

Combine that with the 13 percent of American households identified as living below FPL and that means that one in four U.S. households live at or below the ALICE threshold.

When broken out by age, race, and household type, the numbers start to skew in several categories. For example, three in every four households led by a single female caring for children are at or below ALICE, whereas 20 percent of married-without-children households meet the ALICE threshold.

ALICE burden is also heaviest on households led by young adults and seniors, as well as on Black and Hispanic households – of which more than half of households nationally live at or below the ALICE threshold.

There is not a significant difference between households in rural versus urban areas. For both, nationally, more than 40 percent are at or below the ALICE threshold.

South Carolina ALICE stats

Overall, South Carolina’s ALICE burden is not far off from the national numbers – 15 percent of households are at or below FPL and another 29 percent meet ALICE qualifications, meaning 43 percent of the state’s households overall could be considered ALICE.

This places South Carolina in nearly the same company as the rest of the South, although ALICE burden is heaviest in Gulf Coast states.

At the county level, however, ALICE numbers can be wildly off from the statewide average. In five counties – Marion, Lee, Orangeburg, Allendale, and Hampton – more than 60 percent of households are ALICE. IN another 14 counties, at least half of households are considered ALICE.

The three counties with the highest share of residents living above the ALICE threshold (two-thirds) are Berkeley, Lancaster, and Lexington.

Statewide and county-level data broken out by age, race, household type, or urban/rural are not available.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.