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STUDY: 43% of South Carolina households struggled to afford basics

Jason Thomas //November 7, 2023//

STUDY: 43% of South Carolina households struggled to afford basics

Jason Thomas //November 7, 2023//

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Of the more than 2 million households in South Carolina, 877,933 were unable to afford all their basic needs in 2021, according to the ALICE Report released today by the United Ways of South Carolina.

The report was released in partnership with United For ALICE, a U.S. research organization driving innovation, research and action to improve life across the country for people in financial hardship, a news release stated.

ALICE in South Carolina: A Study of Financial Hardship places a spotlight on the large population of hardworking residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings and are one emergency or unexpected expense from a cycle of financial instability, the release stated. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The Report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in the state to date, using the latest data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census. The Report unveils new measures, based on 2021 income levels and expenses, that quantify how many in South Carolina’s workforce are struggling financially, and why.

Click here to read the full study.

In 2021, a total of 581,290 South Carolina households fell into what United Way calls the ALICE population, the release stated. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living in our community. This number was nearly double the official poverty rate, which accounted for 296,643 households in the state. Combined, ALICE households and households living below the federal poverty level comprise the ALICE Threshold, which represents the minimum income level necessary for survival for a household. Forty-three percent of all households in South Carolina fell within the ALICE Threshold.

“We all know ALICE,” said Trident United Way President and CEO DJ Hampton in the release. “Many of us are ALICE or have been ALICE. ALICE is our friend, our family member and our neighbor. ALICE often works full-time or holds more than one job. ALICE might be a recent college graduate unable to afford to live on their own, a young family strapped by childcare costs or a mid-career professional who is now underemployed. These community members are vital to our state’s economic well-being, and they face barriers to financial stability that are beyond their control.”

The Report is a project of United For ALICE, a grassroots movement of United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in more than half the United States, all using the same methodology to document financial need. ALICE Reports provide county-by-county data and analysis of how many households are struggling, including the obstacles ALICE households face on the road to financial independence.

“This Report provides the objective data that explains why so many residents are struggling to survive and the challenges they face in attempting to make ends meet,” said the Report’s lead researcher, United For ALICE National Director Stephanie Hoopes, in the release. “Until now, the true picture of need in local communities and states has been understated and obscured by misleading averages and outdated poverty statistics.”

The ALICE Report reveals:

  • Households below the ALICE Threshold span all races, ages and genders. Yet for certain groups, the struggle is disproportionate. For example, 60% of Black and 52% of Hispanic households in South Carolina were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021, compared to 36% of white households.
  • In part, because wages had stagnated for a decade, those working various roles in the hospitality retail industries had some of the highest percentages of South Carolina workers falling under the ALICE Threshold.
  • 53% of the state’s 31,380 restaurant servers lived below the ALICE Threshold in 2021.
  • 46% of the state’s 54,570 cooks lived below the ALICE Threshold in 2021.
  • 36% of the state’s 66,110 retail salespersons lived below the ALICE Threshold in 2021.
  • 41 of the 46 counties in South Carolina had 40 percent or more households unable to make ends meet in 2021. The average income needed to survive in South Carolina depends on local conditions and ranged from $52,596 in Orangeburg County to $70,728 in Charleston County annually for a family of four, more than double the official U.S. poverty level.

“This inaugural ALICE Report sets a light on the 43% of South Carolina households who work hard, but never seem to get ahead,” Hampton II said in the release. “The data provided by the ALICE Report uniquely positions the United Ways of South Carolina with the ability to translate these statistics into meaningful action to improve lives and strengthen economic well-being for all South Carolinians.”