Employed, but one unexpected expense away from disaster

“Why do you need help?”


“Get a job.”


“Only failures need charity.”


“I had to work, so should you.”


It’s easy to pass judgment on people who can’t afford one or more of the basics of life: housing, food, health care, child care, transportation. People scroll through social media every day, declaring in the comments section that the plights of those in need are a direct result of their laziness.


But what about Alice?


Alice has a full-time job, but she just can’t make ends meet — Alice’s job is one of the millions in the state that pays less than $15 per hour. Alice faces a 21-percent-gap between what she makes and what she needs to survive and afford the basics in Wisconsin.


Alice works until her feet ache every day, but no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get a leg up on life. She lives paycheck to paycheck, and something as simple as a dentist appointment or new brakes on her car can empty what little savings she has put together — or force her to choose between her health, her safety and her rent.


Should Alice aspire to a better career — one that would allow her to live in a house with a white picket fence? Yes, but what should she do between now and when she can find that better opportunity?


While the “Alice” detailed above isn’t a flesh-and-blood person, persons classified as “ALICE” account for 42 percent of Wisconsin households.


The acronym ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — a term used by the United Way to define more than 670,000 households. They are above the official poverty rate, but they’re still one crisis away from despair.


She is Alice


Well, technically her name is Erica, but she falls into the ALICE category.


Erica has a full-time job, and is a single mom of Kylee, 4.


Kylee is in daycare at the Fond du Lac Family YMCA, until she is old enough to start school. When Erica became unable to afford the care, she risked losing Kylee’s place at the Y — a tough prospect.


“I was afraid they would kick her out,” Erica said.


She added that she was also afraid and ashamed to have to ask for help.


“I was going to fight before I asked for help, but I realized it doesn’t hurt to ask.”


Taking time away from work to care for Kylee or to find other safe alternatives could have resulted in more issues that Erica didn’t have the time or money to deal with.


Thanks to a $30,000 allocation earmarked to assist ALICE individuals with childcare, the United Way provided a stipend to help keep Kylee in daycare for a while, until Erica could work everything out with her finances.


“In 2017, that investment helped 40 families stay in their (childcare) slots,” said Amber Kilawee, executive director of the Fond du Lac Area United Way.


Childcare, on its own, on average, accounts for 23 percent of the estimated $4,398 budget for a two-adult, two-child household, said Kilawee.


How do they help?


The United Way helps ALICE families with the following programs:

  • 2-1-1, which connects individuals and families to health and human service programs in a free, confidential, one stop shop way.
  • FamilyWize, a free, no-eligibility prescription discount card that can be used at any pharmacy throughout the country. Cards are available at pharmacies, the United Way office and other local human service organizations
  • Affordable child care, which helps keep families in their precious child care spots if a family emergency, job loss, injury comes up.
  • Utility and water disconnection services, as well as homeless prevention, which costs the organization an $85,000 investment.
  • Annual investments to the Boys and Girls Club to help ensure that children have access to safe, educational and supportive after-school environments.
  • Save a Smile dental program, which helps children (always from lower-income families) access preventive and restorative dental services.


How to donate


Dollars donated to United Way fund more than just the ALICE program — United Way has a hand-up available for a variety of different needs. But in every case, that hand-up is provided through funds raised in their annual campaign.


As of Dec. 5, this year’s United Way campaign stood at 53 percent of its $770,000 goal.

For more information, or for a full list of United Way services available in Fond du Lac County, visit fdlunitedway.org.