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Leadership Message: from our Executive Director, Jack Salo - May 2017

posted May 11, 2017, 7:24 AM by Josie Maroney   [ updated May 11, 2017, 7:27 AM ]
The ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Project has provided a framework to better understand the challenges of the working poor and, I would argue, the transfer of wealth in our country. The United Way ALICE Project began as a pilot in Morris County, New Jersey in 2007 and is now endorsed and supported by United Ways in fifteen states, including New York

In Broome, Delaware, and Tioga Counties, the percentage of ALICE households is 42%; 44%, and; 36% respectively. What does this mean? Essentially, four of ten households in our region are comprised of "... individuals and families who are working, but unable to afford the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation."

What are the implications of having forty or fifty percent or more of the households and workers in your community unable to afford the basic necessities of life? 

While struggling with this injustice, I keep coming back to who pays for the gap between what it costs to live with dignity and some level of security (your children are safe and cared for, your home is safe and sufficient, you have a dependable way to get to work, you have enough healthy food to eat and can access health care when you need it) and what you get paid in this economy for service sector and other low-wage employment? It is not an easy or simple question. 

Part of the answer can be found with business owners and other employers whose mission includes not only the bottom line, but also the viability and well-being of their workers. The recent 60 Minutes story on Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya and his willingness to not only hire refugees, but to provide both transportation to employment and interpreters in the workplace, is an inspirational example of how one man and one business are investing in both the workers and the company. 

Another example of how business can play an important role in the well-being of their workers was provided by Shanna Ratner, a rural economic and community development practitioner, in a recent presentation to the Community Foundation for South Central New York Planning Committee. Ms. Ratner spoke of working with a rural electric cooperative (company) that had an onsite child care center for employees. She was engaged to evaluate the variety of returns the cooperative business received on its investments in its employees and the community, which yielded a surprising finding: the childcare center was not only a benefit to employees, but actually improved the cooperative's bottom line. The return on investment for the childcare center considered the longevity, attendance, and productivity of workers using the center, and showed a clear return on investment when costs associated with turnover and absenteeism were factored in. Not only did the business meet the basic need for childcare for their workforce, but the center also provided the business with a competitive advantage.

I also think part of the answer to how to close the gap between wages and the cost of meeting basic needs can be found in redirecting the resources of philanthropy. The focus of some United Ways on income and the promotion of the ALICE Project are both positive steps in this direction. Challenging United Ways and foundations to consider and direct resources to help close the gap between income and the cost of basic needs is an education and advocacy effort worth engaging in. 

Finally, public policy, economic policy, and governmental programs must consider the needs of our working people who work hard, but cannot make ends meet. Does our public policy help or hurt those that meet the ALICE criteria? Will the policy support or at least not have a negative impact on their ability to meet their basic needs and live with increased security and dignity? When the math is done who benefits and who loses when our elected officials legislate?

John C. Salo
Executive Director
Rural Health Network of South Central New York