Study finds 1 in 3 Tennessee households struggle to afford basic needs

A new study has found that 1 out of every 3 Tennessee households struggle to meet their basic needs. The study found that in 2017, nearly half of the 75,985 households in Chattanooga struggled. (Image: WTVC)

A new study has found that 1 out of every 3 Tennessee households struggle to meet their basic needs - and that number goes to 1 in 2 in some parts of our area.

The United Ways of Tennessee (UWTN) has released the findings from its 'ALICE' financial hardship study, revealing the challenges many working families face.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and it represents households that work and earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but who make less than the basic cost of living for the county. These households are unable to afford the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a smartphone.

"The report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in our state to-date,” said Mary Graham, president of UWTN. “Unlike the official federal poverty level, which doesn’t accurately account for local costs of living, our report factors in the costs of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic needs to determine what it truly costs to live in Tennessee."

In our area, the study showed that in 2017, more than half of households in Grundy County (59%) and Bledsoe County (54%) were below the ALICE Threshold, meaning they struggled to meet basic needs that year. Grundy County had the highest percentage of households below the threshold of any county in the state, according to the study. Tens of thousands of households in our area also struggled: Bradley (41%), Hamilton (39%), Marion (40%), McMinn (47%), Meigs (41%), Polk (38%), Rhea (47%), and Sequatchie (44%).

In Chattanooga alone, the study found 47% of the 75,985 households were below the threshold in 2017.

United Ways of Greater Chattanooga spokesperson Noah Reaves shared several other key findings from the study:

  • Of Tennessee's 2,589,017 households, 15% lived in poverty in 2017 and another 24% were ALICE households, meaning a combined 39% of households struggled to meet basic needs
  • Households with income below the ALICE threshold make up 20 - 59% of households in every county in Tennessee
  • 38% of families with children under the age of 18 have income below the ALICE threshold.
  • Several demographic groups in our state have lower incomes and are more likely to live in ALICE households, including people of color; women; those identifying as LGBTQ; those with lower levels of education; those with a disability; recent undocumented, un-skilled or limited English-speaking immigrants; younger veterans; and formerly incarcerated people.
  • More than 40% of Tennessee’s senior households live below the ALICE threshold (30% ALICE, 11 below federal poverty level)
We will use this information to raise awareness and take action to address the growing ranks of ALICE households across Tennessee,” said Graham. “These working families are doing their part, but as our data makes clear, hard work alone is not enough to survive and thrive. We now have a nonpartisan tool that United Way can use to partner with businesses, government, nonprofits, the faith-based community, and our state’s citizens to help struggling families move up.

UWTN says report is a grassroots movement of more than 600 United Ways and their corporate, government and nonprofit partners that all use the same methodology for documenting financial need.

Detailed information for each of Tennessee's counties down to the neighborhood level are included in the report.

To learn more about the study and see more detailed results, visit UWTN's website here.

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