Back in March, life as we knew it broke as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Commutes to and from work halted. Our children stopped going to school. The businesses we relied on and enjoyed either shut their doors completely or dramatically shifted operations. However, we moved forward, and that is in large part thanks to — and has often been at great risk to — hardworking people in Arkansas who were and remain economically insecure. These are asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE) families.
As we rebuild, let’s ensure our economy supports ALICE families because their essential work has kept all of us going.
Who Is ALICE?
The heads of ALICE households are Arkansans who work hard, sometimes at two or three jobs, just to make ends meet. As you reflect on the past six months, think of early education workers, home health aides, heavy truck drivers, store clerks and repair professionals. ALICE workers are the people we rely on every day, the folks who have shown up to keep our economy running at great risk to themselves and their families. When those of us who have quarantined made that emergency trip to the grocery store, ALICE workers stocked the shelves and stood behind the registers. As we have worried about the health of our loved ones, many ALICE Arkansans provided medical care for our elderly family members.
Before the pandemic, nearly 500,000 ALICE households knew one emergency stood between them and a financial edge. Stagnant wages and the rising costs of housing, health insurance and child care kept them stuck on the brink. The ALICE survival budget — approximately $46,000 and below for a family of four, or $18,000 or less for a single adult — was a life-saving opportunity that was always just out of reach.
For ALICE families, the pandemic has been as much a threat to their physical health as it has been to their economic well being.
How Can I #StandUpForALICE?
At the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, I have learned that the first step toward helping others is to listen and learn. And I invite you to join me in doing just that by experiencing our “#SeeALICE Mythbuster Story” series.
This summer, we met 10 ALICE workers from across the state who shared their determination, sacrifice and dreams for economic stability. We met Arnetta from Dumas, a school cafeteria worker with a multitude of hidden talents. We met Justin from North Little Rock, the proud son of a blue-collar family filled with humor and love. Like the educators and school staff we are relying on to teach our future generations, these amazing stories teach us what we need to create a future where every working Arkansan earns a living wage, participates in a thriving economy and is able to build generational wealth.
We also heard from individuals on the frontline throughout the pandemic, and we started capturing what ALICE workers have seen, heard and felt in the Reimagine Arkansas initiative. Melissa from Springdale shared how the pandemic has disproportionately affected the Marshallese community, families she serves every day. Arkansans we spoke with explained how this moment has only magnified racial inequity and its myriad consequences, from healthcare and housing insecurity to the criminalization of poverty.
Once you have taken time to understand what it is like to be ALICE in Arkansas, I also invite you to join me in a movement to create an economy that works for everyone because, right now, it clearly does not. When you are ready, click here and then pledge to #StandUpForALICE. By doing so, you will commit to:
Ready to (Re)Build Arkansas?
No doubt this global health crisis has challenged all of us. This disruption of our normal day-to-day routines has in many ways felt like it has broken apart our lives and our communities. As we start to pick the pieces up and put them back together — as we rebuild — I challenge us to do a better job this time. Too many Arkansans have been trapped by high household costs, low wages, and unreliable work with little to no benefits for too long.
Will you join me to build an equitable Arkansas in which all Arkansans have jobs that pay a livable wage, a quality education, and the chance to thrive and prosper?
About the Author: Rev. Shantell Hinton Hill is an equity officer focused on infusing narrative change into the work of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, a private, independent foundation whose mission is to relentlessly pursue educational, economic, social, ethnic and racial equity for all Arkansans.