Rate of families on verge of poverty growing

Posted at 6:09 PM, Jan 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-25 07:34:48-05

The number of Idaho families on the verge of poverty is growing, according to United Way's data collection through a report called ALICE, which stands for asset limited, income constrained, employed.

Through a first of its kind report in the U.S., a side-by-side cost of living comparison identifies how working families are coming up short.

Child care costs are a family's biggest expense in Idaho, forcing many working parents to make some tough decisions. They lie in a gap where they make too much for financial assistance and just enough to survive.

Boise resident Ashley Erwin is the mother of two young children. She used to be a waitress to help supplement the family's income but quit so she could stay home with their youngest child, MaKenna, 4.

The daycare MaKenna went to charged for days when she wasn't able to make it for whatever reason.

Erwin understands that it's lost money to hold a spot for a no-show, but there were times when she felt an exception could easily be made.

"A lot of daycares really need to consider that," Erwin says. "I understand you're holding a spot but even on Christmas, when they're closed, we're still paying for that day if it falls during the week."

With daycare costs subtracted from the budget, Ashley still had to factor in rental housing for a family of four, health insurance and kindergarten fees for her 6-year-old son, Jakob.

The ALICE report has identified a new category for the federal government to consider when calculating poverty rates: Working families who are barely making ends meet.

"There's not a single county in the state of Idaho of our 44 counties, not a single county, that has less than a third of their population who are working but are struggling to survive," says Nora Carpenter, United Way of Treasure Valley president and CEO.

The hope is that data from this community-to-community look at the true cost of living will get the conversation started and be of use for city and county leaders, besides policy makers.

Erwin is pushing for an increase in minimum wage.

"It's hard sometimes but I'm blessed. I have two healthy kids, and we make it work," Erwin says. "Some months are easier... some months aren't."

In the Treasure Valley, Owyhee County has the highest combined poverty rate. When you add in the ALICE family numbers, the total climbs to 62 percent.

The entire ALICE report can be viewed online by logging on to