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Report: State’s working poor face hard road



Just before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lockdown, 28-year-old Keeley Haynes of Waterbury found out she was pregnant with her second child.

The gas station where she worked as an assistant manager, cut employees’ hours, and laid off others, she said.

A complication in her pregnancy put her on medical leave, then she was let go from the job altogether, she said.

So, the single mother of an 8-year-old found herself at the soup kitchen and food pantry at Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries, where she met Executive Director Barbara Ann Dublin.

“They have supported me, Barbara and her whole entire team,” Haynes said. “I don’t even know how to explain the relationship I have with her. She has helped me through some pretty difficult times.”

Times are getting more difficult for people like Haynes, according to the latest study by the United Way of Connecticut that refers to the working poor as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).

The agency yesterday released its third ALICE report, See ALICE , Page 7A

Candy Satterfield of Waterbury talks with Richard Murphy of Waterbury while waiting in line at the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries on Friday.


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which determined that 38% of Connecticut households, a total of 513,727, cannot afford what the United Way calls the “basics” of living — housing, food, health care, childcare, and transportation.

The report uses figures gathered in 2018. The previous report, which used figures gathered in 2016, identified 504,693 households Connecticut that were not only below the federal poverty level, but also below the ALICE income threshold.

The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2020 is $26,200, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But the United Way has long contended that figure is not an adequate measure of financial hardship, and that families need to earn much more to survive.

The household survival budget figure the United Way uses in its ALICE report represents a breakdown of what the organization considers to be the bare minimum a household must earn to survive. It includes housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care, taxes and other miscellaneous expenses. Taking all those elements into consideration, according to the United Way, a family of four in Connecticut must earn no less than $90,660 just to get by.

That number is up from $70,788, cited in the previous report two years ago.

That figure represents the annual household survival budget for a Connecticut family of four made up of two adults, one infant and a preschooler.

The household survival budget ranges depending on county. For instance, according to United Way figures, the annual household survival budget in Litchfield County is $77,484, while it’s up to $80,364 in New Haven County.

In Greater Waterbury, report figures indicate, 11,207 households, 13%, live at or below the federal poverty level; but 31% of the population, 27,186 households, are at or below the ALICE threshold.

At 65%, Waterbury had the highest poverty and ALICE rate in Greater Waterbury and the second highest in New Haven County, behind New Haven’s 66%. Hartford had the highest poverty and ALICE rate in the state at 73%.

Jason Martinez, the United Way of Greater Waterbury’s vice president of community impact, said Connecticut’s high cost of living, combined with a high number of lowpaying jobs is partially responsible for the growth of the ALICE population.

“Forty-five percent of jobs in Connecticut pay less than $20 an hour,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons the pandemic, Martinez said, disproportionately affected the ALICE population. Their jobs were already low-paying before having lost them to the virus lockdown.

He said ALICE put a name to the face of the working poor, and became a new focus for the agency as it sought better ways to deliver services to that population.

“It’s given us the ability to really see ALICE as our neighbors, our colleagues,” Martinez said. “By giving a name to the face and an ability to talk about this population, we’re able to better support them.”

He said the UWGW intends to work with United Ways across the state are to plan a session to talk with community members about ALICE.

“We’re going to continue to look at the agencies we’re funding, the demographics of the community members they’re supporting and make sure they are working directly with our ALICE families,” Martinez said.

One of those agencies is GWIM, where Tamela Bennett sought help after the pandemic cut back the working schedules of her and the father of her four children.

“Especially with the children, they can’t go to school; it’s complete chaos,” said Bennett, who said she is pregnant with her fifth child. “It’s great to be able to go down to GWIM and access some pampers or any toiletries they might have, and the food, of course.”

Dublin said she’s seeing more and more clients like Bennett and Haynes.

“We’re dealing with the working poor that are working or actually want to work. Unemployment is very advanced in the city,” she said. “And even when you are working, it’s not enough hours and not enough money to make ends meet without assistance from the United Way and help from the community.”

Contact Mike Patrick at, on Twitter @ RA_MikePatrick or on Facebook at RA.Mike. Patrick.

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