United for ALICE estimates a Maine household would need more than $70,000 to meet basic living expenses.
In this Feb. 13, 2023, file photo, Jaqueline Benitez, who depends on California's SNAP benefits to help pay for food, shops for groceries at a supermarket in Bellflower, California. Credit: Allison Dinner / AP

Forty-two percent of households in Maine struggled to cover the cost of living in 2021, according to a report released last week from United for ALICE and United Ways of Maine.

The ALICE in Maine report analyzed data from 2021 to identify Maine individuals who met the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) classification. ALICE households earn above the federal poverty level yet struggle to afford basic expenses like housing, food and transportation. The study calculated the “Household Survival Budget” based on the cost of household essentials for each county in Maine.

Twelve percent of households in Maine fell below the federal poverty level in 2021 — $26,500 in total income for a family of four. The ALICE Household Survival Budget found the same household required a total income of $70,908 to afford housing, food, transportation and other basic needs.

“That’s a really different magnitude of hardship than you get with the federal poverty level,” said Dr. Stephanie Hoopes, director for United for ALICE. She said the study provides a look into struggling households often overlooked by traditional income parameters.

The report notes public assistance programs in 2021 were temporarily expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hoopes said it’s unclear how the termination of those benefits affected the ALICE levels across the state.

“There’s no one single silver bullet to improve life for ALICE [households],” Hoopes said. “We need to look at all the parts of the survival budget. That means look at housing, look at transportation, health care, food, child care: all those things matter.”

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.