In Waunakee, 24% of the population is just making ends meet, and when faced with a large expense, say treatment for an illness or a car repair, those individuals may be forced to sacrifice another necessity or fall behind on their monthly bills.
This population falls within what is known as the ALICE category of earners. Lisa Humenik, director of the Waunakee Neighborhood Connection, spoke to the Waunakee Rotary Club at its virtual Jan. 28 about those within the Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed threshold nationwide and within the Waunakee area. Those households are also referred to as the “working poor.”
The Neighborhood Connection is a nonprofit serving neighbors in need within the Waunakee school district through a free store, referrals to other agencies and emergency financial assistance. Its staff see how families within the ALICE threshold struggle at times.
Statewide, a growing number of families are on the cusp of the ALICE threshold, either 10% above or below it, Humenik said, adding any small drop in wages has an impact. Increases in wages can help stabilize these households.
Humenik shared statistics showing that the survival wage for a single person nationwide is $21,264; for a senior citizen, the income needed is $24,000; and for a family of four, it is $68,000.
Fewer white households fall within the ALICE thresholds, and the numbers of households of other races in this category is growing. Disparities in wages among women and people of color play a role, and while wages have remained fairly stagnant, the consumer price index has risen.
Most earners within the ALICE threshold have low-wage, hourly jobs with minimal wage increases, adding to their financial instability.
Housing costs in the Waunakee area, where rents average $850-$1,170 per month, are part of the equation. Nationally, the cost of rent factored into the report's survival income is $767. According to the United Way of Wisconsin’s ALICE Project report, Dane County is one of three statewide with the most pronounced housing shortage.
Approximately 1,800 people within the Waunakee school district’s boundaries are included in the ALICE category, and some come to the Neighborhood Connection for temporary assistance. Humenik also shared some statistics about the nonprofit, noting that in 2018, it had 66 client households. In 2019, that number rose to 206, and in 2020, to 222.
About 10% of households in the Waunakee area have incomes under the ALICE threshold, Humenik said, more than the number of families served by the Neighborhood Connection.
 
Birthdays: Feb. 1, George Ohlendorf; Feb. 3, David Hogg; Feb. 11, Phil Willems; Feb. 12, Ryan Walsh.
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