As costs continue to rise, West Virginians struggle to make ends meet

By Joe Severino, RealWV

Nearly half of West Virginians already struggle to make ends meet each month.

When taking a closer look at current costs of living, as many as three out of every four West Virginians live in poverty. However, for the 25% living above the seemingly arbitrary poverty line, they or their family’s current income is not enough to support a stable life.

ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It’s a measurement that captures people and families who don’t live under the Federal Poverty Level, but make less than what’s needed to afford basic essentials, according to United Way of Central West Virginia.

Two years ago, data estimated 31% of West Virginians were ALICE. Current federal poverty rates allow a family of four to make up to $30,000 per year and still receive government income assistance. For one person, that amount is $14,580. The ALICE threshold is a rate slightly higher than these levels.

The most common workers living under the ALICE threshold are cooks and registered nurses, with more than 40,000 West Virginians working these jobs. Office clerks, fast food workers, truck drivers, personal care aides and customer service representatives are other common professions living near but just above the poverty line.

76% of McDowell County residents fell under the ALICE threshold, while the poverty rate was significantly lower at 27%. The next highest rates were seen in Clay, Webster, Roane, Calhoun and Mingo – all 60% or higher.

A United Way report found the number of households in financial hardship in West Virginia continues to be undercounted in official measures. While 17% of households living below the Federal Poverty Level two years ago, an estimated 31% lived under the ALICE threshold – totaling nearly 50%, or 339,890 households facing financial hardship every day.

Federal poverty rates continue to be a one-size-fits all measurement, with no variation between any of the Lower 48 states and the District of Columbia. This allows for disparities in federal assistance to areas where it’s more expensive to live, or where other regional factors are at play.

ALICE households can stay afloat, but budgets for emergency expenses do not exist. With the inflated costs of basic goods and services seen over the last couple years, more and more West Virginians are finding themselves in financial hardship. And the problem does not seem to have a solution coming soon.

New Census data showed 86,000 children, or 25% of West Virginia kids, were living in poverty in 2022 – the highest rate in the nation. West Virginia was the only state to see an increase in child poverty rates between 2021 and 2022.

And with a looming government shutdown, federal administrators are warning states that families in programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) could be at risk of losing vouchers for fresh foods.

As more working families face financial hardship, the work of humanitarian community organizations becomes ever more important. 

The following resource centers in southern West Virginia are available to families requiring assistance:

For more information about these, or other resource centers in your area, or to learn how you can help, visit findhelp.org.

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