Growing up ALICE in Hawaii

Aloha United Way recently released the ALICE Report for Hawai‘i to raise awareness about the economic challenges faced by hardworking Hawai‘i families and individuals. ALICE households – an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – are employed, but can’t afford the cost of living in Hawaii, and lack a safety net for emergencies. Their income may be higher than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but their income falls short of basic necessities.

In Hawai‘i, 49% of households are ALICE or live below the poverty level. They are in every community, women and men, young and old, all races and ethnicities. They could be our neighbors. They could be us.

I grew up ALICE, but I didn’t know it.

We were three generations living in a house in Hawai’i, with three-and-a-half incomes contributing to the household – and me. And a scrappy dog.

We had four adults contributing to the household, and one child who didn’t know that there was anything unusual about it. For financial reasons, for childcare, for convenience, it made sense to live together, ALICE.

We were lucky that we inherited a home from my great-grandmother, so we just had to worry about property taxes and maintenance. We added security bars after our house was burglarized, and one year we all got together to paint the outside of the house, but we couldn’t afford major upgrades.

We didn’t go to farmer’s markets, but we had fruit trees in the yard. We didn’t buy organic food, but we stocked up on canned goods (and toilet paper). We didn’t go to a lot of restaurants, concerts, or plays, but we saved money to splurge on vacations a few times when I got older.

ALICE households are not new in Hawai‘i. What’s new is the spotlight we are shining on them. We’re acknowledging that we sometimes can’t live comfortably on a single or even dual income. We’re acknowledging that as childhood extends into the late teens (or early twenties), and people live longer, multi-generational families are a better solution than living and struggling alone.

In 2016, 8% of all family households in Hawaii were multi-generational (three or more generations), according to the US Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

The ALICE Report reminds us that it’s hard to thrive on our own.

Growing up, did you live in an ALICE household? Do you live in an ALICE household today, or do you have friends and family who live ALICE?

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