There are other problems with the hypothetical budgets these reports rely on to estimate ALICE households. These budgetary estimates fluctuate in ways that should raise red flags, or, at least, require a robust explanation. But the reports do not provide good explanations for these fluctuations, and, as such, appear to be either relying on inconsistent data or tweaking the methodology in ways that would not allow meaningful comparisons over time. This contributes to the unreliability of the estimated survival budgets.
For instance, the estimated costs for health care used in the ALICE reports for Michigan swing wildly from year to year. These costs for a four-person household increased by 37% from 2012 to 2015 and then rose by another 26% from 2015 to 2017. But they crashed back down by 36% from 2017 to 2019, nearly back to their 2012 level. If the data these reports use is consistent over time, these abrupt changes should be explained, as they would have a large impact on how many households the report will wind up labeling ALICE.
Estimated costs of other goods can make sudden jumps from year to year as well. The family budget for transportation and food remained steady from 2012 to 2017, changing by only a few percentage points. But then from 2017 to 2019, the ALICE report says these costs increased by 34% for transportation and 31% for food. If transportation and food costs increased by one-third in Michigan over a two-year period, one would think the report would highlight this, as it would have a significant impact on the financial situation of ALICE households. The report should explain why these increases are not the result of a methodological tweak, change in data source or explained by some other phenomenon. But the latest report makes no mention of these dramatic increases in these estimated costs.
Another unexplained and curious element of these budgets is the estimates used for the taxes paid by Michigan households. The annual cost of taxes steadily increased from 2012 to 2019, according to ALICE reports, more than doubling from $277 to $589 over the period. While there have been some tax changes at the state and federal level during this period, it would require a significant tax hike to produce these kinds of increases. The reports do not explain the cause of this increase, leaving open the possibility that newer reports added new tax costs not included in previous reports. That would undermine the reliability of this methodology for tracking the financial situation of the populations over time, as the report purports to do.