Much of this analysis focused on methodology of United Way’s ALICE report, and there’s reason enough to doubt the veracity of its claims based on the limits of that methodology. But stepping back and viewing these claims from a broader perspective also highlights why they are likely exaggerated.
For instance, if the ALICE household survival budget is accurate, 29% of Michiganders live above the poverty line but are barely able to feed, house and care for themselves and their families. If that’s true, than what does that say about the hundreds of thousands of households living below the poverty line in Michigan? If the ALICE report is correct and following its logic, these households are nowhere near able to afford the basic necessities of life and widespread misery, starvation and death would be common among these households. While there’s no doubt that households with low incomes often struggle financially, it is not the case that most of them are starving to death.
That said, this critique is not meant to downplay the financial struggles many Michigan families and individuals face. These are real and we don’t deny them. But if policymakers, communities and individuals are going to address these issues, we should attempt to accurately measure what the actual needs are. The ALICE report, while claiming to do so, fails on this account.
It may seem harmless to exaggerate the level of poverty in a state. After all, it could be argued it brings more attention to a serious concern. But complicated problems like poverty require precise and targeted treatments. With its miscalculated methodology, misconstrued assumptions and mischaracterized findings, the ALICE report does not help identify the populations in Michigan that are struggling financially and what policymakers might be able to do to alleviate the problem. In fact, it takes the focus off of those who truly need help, an unfortunate consequence of a poorly designed study.