To flatten the curve and reduce exposure to coronavirus, better known as covid-19, many Arkansans are being encouraged to work remotely, forgo outside child care, and decrease person-to-person contact as much as possible.
While these are potentially lifesaving measures, their implications will have long-lasting, potentially insurmountable effects on our state's most vulnerable population: asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE) households.
ALICE households work hard, sometimes taking on two or three jobs. Yet they still live paycheck to paycheck as a result of stagnant wages and the rising costs of housing, health insurance and child care. In Arkansas alone, nearly 500,000 households live below the ALICE survival budget -- approximately $46,000 and below for a family of four, or $18,000 or less for a single adult.
With the addition of local and state covid-19 mitigation strategies and policy changes, many Arkansans will still land on their feet, relatively unscathed by this public health crisis. Yet, for far too long, policy and practice have overlooked the very people -- such as ALICE families --who will buckle under the weight of unrelenting systemic poverty, which must also be rightly named a public health crisis nationwide yet continues to go largely unmitigated.
As we consider the ideal response to the evolving daily needs that accompany widespread school and workplace closure, it can be assumed that financially secure working adults will be able to navigate irregular work schedules and child-care demands with relative little effort and proper support. Unfortunately, for a staggering number of Arkansans, efforts to limit the spread of covid-19 will only result in decreased earnings, unreliable child-care options and lack of access to affordable health care --exacerbating an already untenable economic reality from which ALICE may never recover.
According to the recent ALICE in Arkansas study, commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Entergy Arkansas, ALICE workers are the state economy's "maintainers." In other words, their jobs keep the Arkansas economy running by building and repairing our infrastructure, educating our children and caring for our work force and seniors.
So what happens when these maintainers can no longer keep our economy afloat because they can barely survive themselves? When restaurants and small businesses cut workers' hours, how will ALICE households maintain their own nutrition and housing? When clinics and hospitals are unable to provide services to all, how will ALICE families maintain their own health and safety?
ALICE households work and pay taxes for Arkansas' economy but, in the face of the covid-19 crisis, our economy does not work for them. There is no "work from home" option for most ALICE households; no "stocking up" on food or essential prescriptions; and no flexibility to stay home from work if they are sick. When seven out of 10 jobs in Arkansas pay significantly less than a family wage, there is no economic relief in sight for these families.
From its inception, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation has existed to relentlessly pursue economic, educational, social, ethnic, and racial equity for all Arkansans. Our mission demands that we #StandUpforALICE in times of crisis. Covid-19 presents us with new challenges.
According to analyses, covid-19 is likely to exacerbate the negative impacts of economic insecurity on many families in our state. While the case of this global health pandemic is varied across the world, the need for equitable solutions rooted in financial support for our hardest-working neighbors, friends and residents here in Arkansas has never been more urgent.
Together, we must pursue equitable solutions to #StandUpforALICE, including urging our city officials to issue moratoriums on service shutoffs for all residents (i.e., water, gas, electric); establishing public-private partnerships to deploy rapid-response funds to local churches and schools to provide food and other services to communities in need; helping local agencies and nonprofits provide free child care, transportation, and health screenings to those without insurance; and encouraging employers across the state to offer emergency paid sick leave to employees.
ALICE households maintain our economy. As a state, we have a duty to help them maintain their financial livelihoods during covid-19 and beyond. In the coming days, we encourage our partners, advocates, government officials and residents alike to visit ALICEinAR.org and view the data report to inform programmatic and policy solutions for ALICE households and communities in Arkansas.
Rev. Shantell Hinton Hill is an equity officer focused on infusing narrative change into the work of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, a private, independent foundation whose mission is to relentlessly pursue educational, economic, social, ethnic and racial equity for all Arkansans.
Editorial on 03/26/2020