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Nearly 1 in 4 households in Allen County earns an annual income above the Federal Poverty Level, but below the basic cost of living. These households do not earn enough to make ends meet, but they often earn too much to qualify for assistance through government or private programs.

United Way of Allen County identifies this population as ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

Through community collaboration and Living United, we fight to break down the barriers these families and individuals face daily; this way we can create lasting change carried on through generations.

In the 2018 ALICE Report it shows that in Indiana, 65% of jobs pay less than $20 per hour, with 71% of those jobs paying less than $15 per hour. A full-time job that pays $15 per hour grosses $30,000 per year, this is well below the Household Survival Budget’s $52,836 for a family of four in Indiana. As retail workers are recognized as the most common occupation in Indiana, you must look at the wage they are offered. At well below making ends meet, retail salespeople make on average $9.86 per hour. This is equal to $19,720 if they are full time year-round meaning they fall short of the family Household Survival Budget by more than $33,000 per year.

With 71% of jobs paying less than $15 per hour, it goes without saying that these individuals often do not have the means to save money as they live paycheck to paycheck. So what happens when a pandemic hits and the rate of unemployment skyrockets? This became the reality of our world when Coronavirus (COVID-19) struck in 2020 — our neighbors in Allen County have felt this burden hit home.

In the first four weeks of significant layoffs related to the COVID-19 pandemic (March 21–April 11) 54,462 individuals in northeast Indiana filed initial unemployment claims. Of those, nearly half or 48.4% were filed by Allen County residents. Regionally and on a county level, these numbers are staggering and concerning, especially at the rapid rate they had accumulated.

Job skills are a barrier that ALICE families and individuals face regularly, as we can see with a pandemic this has increased the barrier significantly, in Allen County we have organizations that are working hard to support individuals at this time.

Blue Jacket, Inc. (www.bluejacketinc.org) is one of these partners to United Way. This organization identifies job training and placement as a struggle for the ALICE population and as COVID-19 struck, they did not skip a beat to ensure this community would not suffer. With a “Rapid Innovations Grant” from the Foellinger Foundation, free OSHA training, and donated personal protective equipment, Blue Jacket now offers cleaning and sanitation services to local nonprofits to keep their clients employed.

When this pandemic does fade out, Blue Jacket ensures that they are prepared to adjust their pre-employment training to meet the needs of the community and are taking necessary steps as they plan for the large unemployed workforce that will need their services now more than ever.

Blue Jacket’s Career Academy (www.bluejacketinc.org/services/career-academy) will continue to be here to teach individuals of all abilities and backgrounds how to get back on their feet, increase their confidence, and show the rest of the world just what these individuals have to offer. Blue Jacket states “you can let things happen to you or for you; it’s all up to your attitude moving forward.”

Northeast Indiana Works (www.neinworks.org/workone) has been working firsthand with individuals that are currently up against this barrier, helping people find jobs and access training. In northeast Indiana, manufacturing has seen a very hard hit, as it was the leading job sector for unemployment filings in the first four weeks.

At this point, the best action step to take is to file for unemployment to determine your eligibility. Please do this by applying at www.unemployment.in.gov.

Northeast Indiana Works is also providing employment opportunities that you can find on their webpage or the WorkOne Northeast Facebook page. Rick Farrant, director of communications at Northeast Indiana Works, shares with us that “it is important that we all pay attention to workforce trends and talent needs as we emerge from this difficult chapter. Those can serve as a guide for the training that is provided and the optimum careers that people can choose to pursue. Now more than ever, we must be vigilant about the changing nature of the workforce.”

ALICE individuals and families were already facing this barrier daily whether it was low wages, lack of job training, or the wrong job placement — however, this pandemic has now magnified greatly and could not only be detrimental, but dramatically increase our ALICE population in Allen County. To provide resources to these individuals and families, we must continue to collaborate and fight for the financial stability for our neighbors.

Help United Way by donating at www.unitedwayallencounty.org/donate or to the Emergency Relief Fund at www.unitedwayallencounty.org/covid-19.

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