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Working & the Economy

Study: More Than 1/3 of MD Households Struggle to Meet ‘Survival Budgets’

More than a third of families in the state of Maryland ― and about half the population in some counties and the city of Baltimore ― struggle to meet basic household expenses, according to a new report. Of Maryland’s 2,192,996 households, about 10 percent earn below the federal poverty level of $11,880 for a single adult and $24,300 for a family of four. But far more, 28 percent, or 616,398 households, are defined by the United Way as living below the ALICE threshold. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The United Way says it’s a calculation that encapsulates households with income above the federal poverty level but below the basic cost of living. The United Way’s ALICE report, released Wednesday, calculated a household survival budget in the state ― which includes expenses like housing, food, health care, transportation, technology and taxes ― as $26,052 for a single person in Maryland, on average. The average statewide survival budget for a family of two adults and two young children, an infant and a preschooler, is $69,672, according to the report. On average in the state, child care ($1,252) costs more than housing ($1,165) for a family in United Way’s calculation. The figures are based on 2016 data. Household costs have increased since a similar report in 2010. Overall, the household survival budget is up 19 percent for a single person and 27 percent for the family budget since 2010, according to United Way. The organization also created county-specific survival budgets. The lowest survival budget in the state for a single person is in Garrett County ($18,432) and the highest is in Frederick County ($35,316). The lowest survival budget for a family of two adults, an infant and a preschooler was in Allegany County ($51,432) and the highest was in Howard County ($85,800). Counties in Maryland with the highest percentages of residents in poverty and below the ALICE threshold are:

  • Allegany, 41 percent;
  • Baltimore City, 47 percent;
  • Caroline, 41 percent;
  • Dorchester, 46 percent;
  • Kent, 40 percent;
  • Prince George’s, 43 percent;
  • Somerset, 56 percent;
  • Washington, 41 percent; and
  • Wicomico, 45 percent.

The report released Wednesday includes new factors to define the ALICE threshold, including the cost of a smart phone for each adult in the household survival budgets. In recent years, the ALICE reports have been cited by lawmakers in advocating for legislation in the General Assembly. The 2018 report includes recommendations in four policy areas:

  • to increase technology education in elementary schools;
  • to create programs and infrastructure that promote financial stability, such as access to credit and guaranteed income programs;
  • changes in employment including removing barriers to employment, portable benefits, and lifetime employment programs;
  • changes to remove biases for marginalized groups.

The United Way produces ALICE reports in more than 15 states. The Maryland report is available at


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Study: More Than 1/3 of MD Households Struggle to Meet ‘Survival Budgets’