Four in Ten Families Impoverished in Ulster

Four out of 10 Ulster County household are unable to afford basic necessities such as food, housing and childcare.

According to a United Way report, out of 68,298 of the total households in Ulster County, only 59 percent are above the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold with 11 percent of the total households falling below the poverty line.

For the 30 percent of households under ALICE, inflation and cost of living have outpaced wages so that many households who are employed are struggling to make ends meet. According to The Economic Policy Institute, as recently as August 2015, the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown area of New York State was rated among the top ten most expensive places to live across the country for two-parent, two-child households.

“Many people in the four out of ten households are working and still poor because employment doesn’t guarantee adequate pay to be able to afford the cost of living here,” said Deputy Mayor of New Paltz KT Tobin.

The report focuses on the group of households under the ALICE threshold who do not reflect the larger economic trends of a declining unemployment rate and rising stock market prices. These individuals are employed and rising stock market prices do not necessarily indicate an influx of middle class jobs.

ALICE jobs include many in retail, human services, hospitality, restaurant service and clerical positions.

Tobin added that now more than ever zip code is a predictor of social mobility and that people are “stuck” in the economic strata they are born into. Additionally, the No Move foundation just gave the county $4 million to address generational poverty, poverty that results from a lack of social mobility.

Rates of poverty and ALICE households also vary by race, ethnicity and marital status. The poverty/ALICE rate for black and hispanic households are both over 60 percent whereas it is below 40 percent for white households. In households with children, the poverty/ALICE rate for households with a married couple is 25 percent (3 percent falling below the poverty line) and for single-parent households, the rate is 83 percent for single-mothers and 70 percent for single-fathers.

The report is based on economic data from 2016 and the number of poverty/ALICE households in the county fell by four points since the previous report two years ago (45 to 41 percent), and the statewide number increased by one point (44 to 45 percent). The federal income threshold for poverty in 2016 was $11,880 for an individual and $24,300 for a family of four. 

Households that fall below the poverty often qualify for additional benefits including SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and home energy assistance which ALICE households may not. ALICE framework takes into account the cost of living in an area and uses federal data to calculate costs of necessities and local adjustments for housing. In Ulster County, the minimum income level needed to exceed the ALICE threshold is an hourly wage of $12.05 or $24,108 per year for an individual; for a family of four, an hourly wage of $39.96 (combined) or $79,920 per year.

According to Tobin, a lot of local non-government is at work to combat this systemic, entrenched issue and help families falling under the ALICE threshold.

Family of New Paltz, located on N. Chestnut Street helps to provide food, clothing, fuel and shelter to families in need. According to their website, in the last year alone, FAMILY’s Food Pantries gave out over 140,000 meals through its pantries and an additional 50,000 meals at the agencies emergency shelters.

Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson is a grassroots community organization that aims to empower the working class in order to strengthen social movements and end oppression. By 2015 they had already won an expansion of a statewide low-income utility assistance program by $69 million in funding and 550,000 households in eligibility.

In 2012, our own campus even began a food pantry for struggling students.

Tobin also stated that New Paltz officials have worked to keep taxes flat so as not to increase the tax burden on people. Additionally, New Paltz has passed unique affordable housing laws, a law to put added pressure on landlords to return security deposits, beefed up their building department to increase the safety of buildings and contract with a single hauler to reduce the cost of waste removal and recycling.

“As Deputy Mayor I can say that this is something that the mayor, myself and all the trustees are concerned about,” Tobin said. “We also are pretty active in keeping tenant space, because over 70 percent of our housing stock is rentals which are typically lower income households than home owning households.”