New Research Finds Nearly Half of Connecticut’s Children Lived in Hardship Pre-Pandemic

A new United Way report reveals that federal poverty data undercounts how many children of all races are growing up with financial insecurity. Almost half of Connecticut’s children–42%–lived in households that couldn’t afford the basics in 2019, according to the report from United Way of Coastal Fairfield County and its research partner United For Alice.

The new report titled “ALICE in Focus” also reveals the disproportionate impact of financial hardship on the state’s Black and Hispanic children–the majority of whom lived in financially struggling households pre-pandemic (72% and 67%, respectively).

Growing up in financial hardship isn’t limited to the 13% of Connecticut’s children whose families earned at or below the federal poverty level. Another 29%, more than twice as many, lived in struggling ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households. These are households in which families earn above the federal poverty level and therefore do not qualify for assistance programs, but earn too little to afford the basic costs of housing, child care, health care, transportation and a smartphone plan.

The report finds traditional measures of poverty have severely undercounted the number of children of all races ages 18 and younger in Connecticut who are growing up in financially insecure households.

Children are highlighted in the first installment in the ALICE in Focus research series, which draws from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS). Forthcoming installments in the series will analyze other segments within the ALICE demographic. Upcoming topics include people with disabilities and veterans.

“Undercounting the number of children who are at risk can have lifelong consequences,” said Lucy Teixeira, board chair of the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County. “Thousands of children are locked out of receiving critical supports for stable housing, food, and quality education–all of which can inhibit healthy child development.”

Because ALICE households often earn too much to qualify for public assistance, the report finds that more than 192,000 at-risk Connecticut children–or 63%–didn’t access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

Other findings from ALICE in Focus: Children include:

  • Having two working parents didn’t guarantee financial stability: Among households with two working adults, 21% of Connecticut’s children were living in families whose income didn’t meet the cost of basic needs in 2019.
  • Among households below the ALICE Threshold, families of Hispanic children had the lowest homeownership rate at 22% in comparison with 60% of families of white children.
  • Nearly 71,000 children in households earning below the ALICE Threshold had no high-speed internet access at home—just before school classes shifted online due to the pandemic.

“Having accurate, complete data is the foundation for designing equitable solutions,” said United For ALICE National Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D. “COVID-19 hit ALICE families so much harder than others because they struggle to build savings yet often don’t qualify for financial assistance.”

According to the new research, 41% of Connecticut families below the ALICE Threshold reported in the fall of 2021 that their children “sometimes or often” didn’t have enough to eat. More than half of these families did not receive any public assistance for free meals or groceries.

More data is available through the ALICE in Focus: Children interactive data dashboard–which provides filters for regional and local geographies, age, race, disability status, living arrangements and household work status. Visit UnitedForALICE.org/Focus-Children to access more detailed information.

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