A couple shops for groceries.  Derek Davis photo/Press Herald

Thirty-one percent of households in York County are “ALICE” households — an acronym that stands for “asset limited, income constrained, employed” — according to United For ALICE, a research effort led by the United Way of Northern New Jersey.

United Ways of Maine and United For ALICE recently issued a joint report on the state of financial hardship across Maine, the first of its kind, with more granular county specific data released online. The data provides a snapshot of household financial precarity in 2021.

ALICE is a record of the number of families who are not below the federal poverty level but still struggle to purchase basic households essentials in their area. The designation aims to give a fuller economic picture than just the number of families living in poverty — which is 9 percent in York County. That’s three percentage points lower than the state average of 12 percent. York County as a whole is not far off from the ALICE household average for the state, which is 29 percent.

Since President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s, the federal poverty level has been the most ubiquitous measure of financial hardship in the United States. But United for ALICE and other organizations say it does not truly capture the extent of poverty in the United States.

This has significant implications for policymaking. “With the FPL as the primary way for policymakers and local stakeholders to gauge the extent of financial hardship in their communities, a huge portion of struggling U.S. households go unrecognized,” they added.

Forty percent of households — or 35,973 — in York County are below the ALICE threshold, meaning they are either below the federal poverty level or considered an ALICE household.

Looking at the northeastern corner of York County, the municipalities of Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport all had a significant percentage of ALICE households in 2021. Old Orchard Beach had the highest percentage — 41 percent, followed closely by Biddeford with 39 percent. Saco recorded 29 percent of ALICE households, followed by Kennebunkport then Kennebunk, with 31 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Arundel had the lowest of the six, 24 percent.

That means for many households in the communities, wages do not cover the costs of basic household needs.

Financial hardship also varies significantly across York County. In South Berwick for example, 22 percent of households live below the ALICE threshold. Biddeford, by contrast, had 52 percent of  households living below the threshold in 2021. In Saco, just across the river, that number was 40 percent of households.

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