Would you be surprised to learn that at least one in three households in your town are struggling to make ends meet? Food insecurity is something we talk about a lot because it affects more of our neighbors than you may know. So, what is it? Food insecurity describes the lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live a healthy life. This can be a temporary situation for a family, or it can last a long time. Food insecurity can be tracked by key indicators such as a lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and low income. Helping to put the state of our community into perspective is ALICE.
ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed; this is the working class, people who are employed and earn above the federal poverty level but lack financial security. These individuals represent a growing number of families who are unable to afford the basics of housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care, and technology. The workers often struggle to keep their own households from financial ruin, while keeping their local community running. Sponsored by the United Way, ALICE uses localized research to create a Survival Threshold within each county. The threshold is a bare-minimum household income needed to live in our communities.
To better understand the Survival Threshold, look at the graph below for Emmet County. For example, a family of four to work, live, and simply meet all their bills needs a household income of just under $60,000; this household portrays a two-bedroom apartment and child-care. Between two working adults, that translates to nearly $30 per hour. You can see how the annual income required changes between household demographics. The monthly expenditures are based on modest estimates that stem from federal and state reports that are then adjusted to each county. According to the estimated Survival Thresholds, 33% of households in Emmet County are living below this threshold. That number expands even more in Charlevoix and Antrim counties with 36% and 39% of households living below the Survival Threshold, respectively. This means that a third of our neighbors are falling short in some area of their budget. This is how people fall into food insecurity. If someone is living paycheck-to-paycheck, one sick day can prevent food from going on the table. An unexpected trip to the hospital and the subsequent medical bills can put a family behind on their other bills. At Manna, we often serve people who have had to choose between paying the gas bill or buying groceries.
If you look closely at the graph, there are two pieces of information that really jump out. The first is that these most recent ALICE numbers are from 2021 and don’t account for the inflation that we all are experiencing now in 2023. The second is the cost of housing; this number does not accurately portray the housing crisis we are facing across Northern Michigan. ALICE housing estimates are based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports and reflect Fair Market Rent, rent amounts that fall into the 40th percentile. So, what does this mean for our local communities? It means the Survival Threshold is likely much higher for households than what the reports show and that even more individuals are at risk of food insecurity.
This year, Manna is seeing a culmination of causes bringing people to our food pantry or one of our partner agencies for assistance. With changes to the emergency pandemic food measures, including the ending of SNAP emergency allotments earlier this year, many families will need to rely on the charitable food system that was designed for emergencies, but is increasingly an ongoing necessity. The number of individuals seeking food assistance in 2022 and already in 2023 have consistently surpassed what we saw in 2020. This year, we have averaged over 32,000 individuals served each month through our food network.
Many people in our communities recognize the need for food assistance, but they may not know just how many of our neighbors are struggling. We often hear people ask, “have your numbers been going down now that the pandemic is over?” The answer is no, they are going up, and more than ever our communities are seeking support. We encourage each of you to get involved serving our neighbors in need. The need is growing, and we can’t do this without you.