Home Economy The working poor: 40% of Westchester families struggling to make ends meet

The working poor: 40% of Westchester families struggling to make ends meet


In a county that often ranks among the country’s most affluent, 40 percent of Westchester residents struggle daily to pay for basic needs such as housing, food, transportation, child care and health care, according to a nonprofit’s recent study.

The numbers are part of an updated version of the United Way’s ALICE study. ALICE is an acronym for people who the national nonprofit define as “asset limited, income constrained, employed.” The 40 percent number includes families with incomes below the federal poverty line — defined by the U.S. Census Bureau at $25,100 for a family of four — but also ALICE families with incomes that are above the poverty line but still not enough to keep up with the cost of living.

ALICE families are households with working adults who are struggling to pay bills, according to the United Way. They’re forced to make decisions between rent and the electric bill, or prescription drugs against groceries. The nonprofit devised ALICE as a way to bring new terminology to poverty, saying the federal poverty line “grossly underestimates the number of struggling families.” 

By the United Way’s estimate, a family in Westchester must earn about $88,000 a year to cover the basic costs of food, housing, transportation, health care and child care for a family of two adults, one infant and one pre-school child. That’s just for the bare bones “survival” budget and does not include savings for emergencies or college savings.

About 29 percent of the estimated 342,216 families in Westchester make above the poverty line but less than the ALICE threshold, according to the report. That’s up from 24 percent two years ago. Statewide, about 31 percent of families qualify as ALICE, while an additional 14.4 percent are in poverty.

United Way officials note the numbers are measured during a period when joblessness is decreasing throughout the state. The unemployment rate in Westchester was measured at 5.9 percent in 2016, the period the study reviewed. It has decreased further since then to below 4.5 percent in July.

Alana Sweeny, president and CEO of United Way of Westchester and Putnam, said part of the issue is the new jobs are lower paying, with fewer benefits than those before the 2008 economic crisis. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Westchester, as well as Putnam, increases “at a staggering rate, particularly the cost of health care and child care,” she said in a statement announcing the new numbers.

So while economic indicators may be showing good news, Sweeny notes that “in terms of aggregate measures of economic growth and health, more than a third of residents in our communities are living on the edge.”

Most concerning, she said, is that hourly wages and salaries in the region have not kept pace with expenses. The report found that family costs increased by 22 percent in New York from 2010 to 2016.

United Way released its first ALICE report for New York in 2016. Since then, the organization has counted an additional 30,000 families that qualify as ALICE statewide.

ALICE households, and those below the poverty line, include a range of locations and demographics. The numbers are highest in Westchester’s cities: 60 percent for Mount Vernon; 55 percent in Peekskill; 53 percent in Yonkers; 45 percent in New Rochelle and 42 percent in White Plains.

But families struggling to make ends meet can be found in areas considered wealthy enclaves as well, such as Scarsdale, at 9 percent of families and Bedford, at 22 percent of families.

There’s also a number of Westchester villages where more than half of families make below the ALICE line, including Ossining, Mount Kisco, Port Chester Sleepy Hollow and Bedford Hills. Bedford Hills has the county’s highest overall rate of ALICE families and households below the poverty line, at 68 percent.

The numbers were harshest for single parents. About 74 percent of all single female households with children earn below the ALICE survival budget in Westchester, as do about 62 percent of single male households with children. About 22 percent of married households with children earn below the ALICE survival budget.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers by each lower Hudson Valley county:

Westchester County

Number of households: 342,216

ALICE households: 29 percent  (state  average:  31 percent)

Households in poverty: 11 percent (state average: 14 percent)

Ulster County

Number of households: 68,298

ALICE households: 30 percent

Households in poverty: 11 percent

Sullivan County

Number of Households: 25,031

ALICE  households: 32 percent

Households in poverty: 18 percent

Rockland County

Number of households: 99,257

ALICE households: 37 percent

Households in poverty: 11 percent

Putnam County

Number of households: 34,762

ALICE households: 28 percent

Households in poverty: 5 percent

Orange County

Number of households: 124,365

ALICE households: 36 percent

Households in poverty: 11 percent

Dutchess County

Number of households: 108,200

ALICE households:  27 percent

Households in poverty: 9 percent

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