ALICE in Oregon

The United Way offers a new acronym: ALICE. It stands for asset limited income constrained employed. That’s a decent locution to convey the concept of the working poor.

This is a unique category of people under financial duress. They struggle to make ends meet, yet they also often do not qualify for public assistance. Instead, they pay more in taxes to support people who are only slightly worse off than they are.

According to the United Way’s research, 12% of Oregonians live in poverty while 32% are ALICE. Together, that’s 44%, almost half of the state. That makes Oregon close to the national average, though slightly worse.

Looking at the United Way’s research, I see an important methodological mistake. They do not adjust for the cost of living in each state. This matters for comparing state median income. For example, on an absolute basis, California has the highest median income, but when adjusted for purchasing power, it’s actually the lowest. Similarly, after adjusting for local cost of living, Oregon doesn’t have an average median income. We’re down at the bottom with California.

How would an adjustment for the local cost of living impact Oregon’s relative ALICE distribution? I’m not sure, but if I can find enough time to run these numbers I’ll let you know.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.