More than one-third of Iowa’s households are unable to afford the state’s cost of living, according to an updated report released today by United Ways of Iowa. 

The ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) report highlights a large population of residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings, and are one emergency away from falling into poverty. 

A total of 457,044 Iowa households — 37 percent — fall below the ALICE threshold. These include households below the federal poverty level and those unable to meet the basic cost of living in their communities. 

In Iowa, 12 percent of households (149,264) live below the federal poverty level. The United Way ALICE Report for Iowa shows that an additional 25 percent (307,780) are unable to cover basic expenses, including housing, food, transportation, health and child care, despite having income over the typical definition of poverty.

These workers are in “maintainer” jobs that fill needs in our communities, including child and senior caregiving, service sector positions, clerical positions, and custodial positions, United Way said in a release. These members of our communities are typically missed in traditional measures of poverty. 

The research was led by Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, United Way ALICE Project national director. Her staff collaborated with a 10-person Iowa Research Advisory Committee that represented a number of Iowa’s colleges, universities, state departments and nonprofits, who advised and contributed to the report. 

The researchers calculated a household survival budget that would enable a family to pay housing, food, child care, transportation and health care at a bare-minimum “survival level,” but does not include any savings for unexpected expenses. Yet the total cost of this minimal annual budget — an average $19,560 for an individual and $56,856 for a family of four — was far higher than the adjusted federal poverty level of $11,8800 for a single adult and $24,300 for a family of four in 2016. 

“ALICE does live in Iowa. Despite our reputation for feeding the world, we have Iowans who struggle to feed their families,” said Deann Cook, United Ways of Iowa executive director. “United Ways have worked since the release of our first state report to shine a light on the struggle of these households and help to re-frame the way in which we view all Iowans who are working and contributing to our state’s economy.”

In Polk County, 26 percent of all households are in the ALICE income range. Among single-mother households in Polk County, 41 percent are ALICE households. To view an interactive map with statistics for every county, click here.

  • More than 30 percent of Iowa’s households with children live below the ALICE threshold.
  • Over 40 percent of Iowa’s senior households qualify as ALICE.
  • The household survival budget for a family of four (two adults, infant and toddler) is $56,000  more than double the $24,000 federal poverty level for the same family.
  • The family of four’s greatest expense is child care.
  • 66 percent of Iowa jobs pay less than $20 an hour, and more than half of those pay less than $15 an hour.

The presenting sponsor of the 2018 United Way ALICE Report for Iowa is Alliant Energy. Additional funding was provided by the Iowa Credit Union Foundation.