One in three Tennessee households struggle to meet basic needs — United Way report

United Ways of Tennessee (UWTN) has released its report, ALICE in Tennessee: A Financial Hardship Study. This groundbreaking report reveals the challenges facing working families who are struggling to stay afloat.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed and represents households that are working but cannot afford the basic necessities of housing, food, childcare, health care, transportation and a Smartphone. The report is a project of United For ALICE, a grassroots movement of more than 600 United Ways and their corporate, government and nonprofit partners that all use the same methodology for documenting financial need.

“The report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in our state to-date,” said Mary Graham, president of UWTN. “Unlike the official federal poverty level, which doesn’t accurately account for local costs of living, our report factors in the costs of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic needs to determine what it truly costs to live inTennessee.”

Key findings from ALICE in Tennessee: A Financial Hardship Study include:

  • Of Tennessee’s 2,589,017 households, 15% lived in poverty in 2017 and another 24% were ALICE households. Combined, 39% (1,017,504 households) had income below the ALICE threshold, an increase of 25% since 2007.
  • Households with income below the ALICE threshold make up between 20% and 59% of households in every county in Tennessee.
  • Thirty-eight percent of families with children under the age of 18 have income below the ALICE threshold.
  • Several demographic groups in our state have lower incomes and are more likely to live in ALICE households, including people of color; women; those identifying as LGBTQ; those with lower levels of education; those with a disability; recent undocumented, unskilled or limited English-speaking immigrants; younger veterans; and formerly incarcerated people.
  • More than 40% of Tennessee’s senior households live below the ALICE threshold (30% ALICE; 11 below federal poverty level).

The results of this extensive study are presented in a data-rich website that examines statewide trends, as well as in-depth information for each of Tennessee’s counties at the neighborhood level, with county profiles and interactive maps.

“We will use this information to raise awareness and take action to address the growing ranks of ALICE households across Tennessee,” said Graham. “These working families are doing their part, but as our data makes clear, hard work alone is not enough to survive and thrive. We now have a nonpartisan tool that United Way can use to partner with businesses, government, nonprofits, the faith-based community, and our state’s citizens to help struggling families move up.” To see all of this information and learn more about the report, visit <>.

The ALICE report for Tennessee was funded in part by the BB&T, First Tennessee, First Tennessee Foundation, and the Tennessee Afterschool Network.