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New post-pandemic data shedding light on those living at or below poverty

Posted at 6:10 PM, May 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-17 18:10:08-04

Out of 8.5 million households in Florida, 3.9 million, or 45%, earn income at or below the federal poverty line. That's according to new post-pandemic data from the United Way of the Big Bend's ALICE Report.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed, meaning people who are making more than the federal poverty level, but still cannot afford the basic costs of living.

According to the United Way of the Big Bend's ALICE report, 35% of Leon County is in the ALICE population.

The cost of living has gone up in Leon County since the pandemic. Now, a family of four is paying over $5,000 a month on essentials such as food, housing and transportation.

The demographic in the highest percentage of hardship is black, single mothers under the age of 25.

Shirely O'Rear is the Executive Director of Brehon Family Services, a shelter for pregnant women who are homeless.

After they have their baby, O'Rear said they help them find more permanent housing, but it's not always easy.

"It has been very challenging," said O'Rear. "In fact, some of our residents have had to stay a little longer than the three to four months just because there are not enough affordable places for them to go."

O'Rear relies on help from community partners like United Way of the Big Bend to help them house more families.

CEO of United Way of the Big Bend Berneice Cox said this new data is also vital to allow them and other agencies better meet the community's needs.

"It will shape some of the things we have and expand on some of the programs we have, more than likely, but it will have an opportunity to have discussions about what that means for our community," said Cox.

Some of those programs help with a warning sign of households falling into the ALICE population; learning loss.

Deputy Superintendent for Leon County Schools Dr. Michelle Gayle said the Reading and Math Pals programs are just part of the solution to help fill that gap.

"Mentors, volunteers, partners that happen during the school day, after school, let's not forget Saturday school which goes on throughout the year at many of our schools and then summer school," said Gayle.

Gayle said they've also placed more social workers, guidance counselors and curriculum intervention specialists at schools for additional help.

She believes working to tackle the issue together will help reduce those affected by poverty.

"Leon County Schools though our partnerships with other agencies, such as United Way and other places, we're going to make sure that our kids do not contribute to those statistics," said Gayle.

Cox said now that they have the new data, they'll dive deeper into all of it with their community partners and strategize possible solutions.