New study reveals nearly half of Southwest Virginia families struggle to afford basics

United Way ALICE Report details size and scope of financial hardship in Virginia

Abingdon, VA (July 17, 2017) – There is a basic belief in America that if you work hard, you can support your family. Yet the data presented in The United Way ALICE Report released today shows that this is not the case for nearly half of Southwest Virginia families.

The United Way ALICE Report provides a comprehensive picture of financial need in Virginia, beyond traditional federal poverty guidelines. The 322-page Report shows data at a county and city level for the entire state to bring awareness to part of our population known as ALICE, an acronym coined by United Way that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The ALICE population represents those of us (men, women, and families) who work hard and earn more than the official Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living.

In United Way of Southwest Virginia’s service area, the number of ALICE households is as high as 35%. The ALICE rate, combined with a poverty rate at 24%, shows that as many as 59% of households in our region cannot afford the basic cost of living.

Travis Staton, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia, said,Until now, ALICE has been a hidden population. ALICE works, but struggles to afford the basic necessities, including housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation. The issue is that ALICE households often don’t qualify for governmental aid or social service programs, and they are virtually invisible to the system. A lot of times, their struggles are unseen and unknown.”

A good quality of life requires attainment in the areas of health, education and financial stability. The new United Way model adopted by United Way of Southwest Virginia focuses on bringing the community together to identify our most critical needs in those three areas, and addressing the underlying causes of community problems.

Traditionally the most common approaches to overcoming these barriers are short-term efforts that help an ALICE family weather an emergency: temporary housing, child care assistance, meals, and rides to work.  These approaches can be crucial to preventing an ALICE household from falling into poverty or becoming homeless. But short-term relief efforts do not move households to long-term financial stability. They are not addressing the underlying causes.

The issues affecting ALICE are complex and solutions are difficult. Real change requires identifying where barriers exist and understanding how they are connected. Only then can stakeholders begin to envision bold ideas and take the steps necessary to remove barriers so that ALICE families in Southwest Virginia can thrive.  To permanently reduce the number of ALICE households structural economic changes will be needed to make Virginia more affordable for hard-working families. There is no one solution.

This Report serves as an awareness tool. It clearly shows one of our most critical needs – helping the ALICE population succeed. This report shows us who ALICE is, where ALICE lives, and how ALICE struggles in Southwest Virginia. Now, it’s up to us as a community to address the underlying causes – a complex task for a situation that has developed over decades.

United Ways across the state of Virginia have joined more than 450 other United Ways across 14 states to give ALICE a voice using The United Way ALICE Report.  To produce the United Way ALICE Report for Virginia, a team of researchers collaborated with a Research Advisory Committee, composed of 13 representatives from across the state, who advised and contributed to the Report. Virginia is the fourteenth state to complete an ALICE study. This collaborative model, practiced in each state, ensures each Report presents unbiased data that is replicable, easily updated on a regular basis, and sensitive to local context.

Leaders across Southwest Virginia will be able to use the data compiled in the ALICE Reports to better understand the struggles and needs of their employees, customers, and communities.

Click here to download the report.

Click here to learn more about ALICE.



United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit