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United Way to partner with Rutgers University-Newark for new multi-state poverty study

Partnering with Rutgers University-Newark, poverty study extends to five states

Calling it “the great unfinished work of our society” Lyndon B. Johnson launched a war on poverty 50 years ago. For Johnson, the outcry against poverty was personal. His early life was threatened by economic instability, and according to biographer Robert A. Caro often there was little food to eat and the family lived in constant fear of the bank’s possession of their home.

In a special message to congress on March 16, 1964, introducing the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Johnson wrote, “The war on poverty is not a struggle simply to support people, to make them dependent on the generosity of others. It is a struggle to give people a chance.”

He wrote further, “Our history has proved that each time we broaden the base of abundance, giving more people the chance to produce and consume, we create new industry, higher production, increased earnings and better income for all.”

Continuing Johnson’s war on poverty, United Way announced on Thursday, Jan. 9 the launch of national research project focused on the ALICE population, to ignite a nationwide dialogue around the size and scope of working Americans who are unable to afford basic needs today. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

United Way is partnering with Rutgers University-Newark, School of Public Affairs and Administration to undertake a study of the ALICE population in five states.

“Just as President Johnson sought to mobilize the entire country on this date in 1964 to attack poverty from the local, state and national level, United Way is working to mobilize communities and corporations by redefining the struggle for social and financial stability in terms that fit the needs of our day,” said John Franklin, CEO, United Way of Northern New Jersey which serves Morris, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties as well as portions of suburban Essex County.

Through the ALICE Project, United Way hopes to better understand the issues and challenges faced by residents who earn more than the U.S. poverty line, but less than the basic cost of living.

Building on a 2012 study of New Jersey’s ALICE population that found one-third of the state’s households cannot afford basic needs, United Ways in five states are taking the lead to shed light on the issue across the country. United Ways in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey will unveil the results of ALICE studies later this year.

The reports will serve as a launching pad for United Way to engage policy makers at the local, state and national levels, corporate America, academics, the faith community, ALICEs and others to pursue solutions for financial stability.

“The ALICE project can reinvigorate a nationwide focus on the hidden poor, with a grounding in objective data,” said Marc Holzer, dean of Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration. “This type of data-driven project gives us the best opportunity to understand and attack the barriers keeping our citizens from realizing their potential.”

United Way’s ALICE project has its roots in New Jersey, where the first report in 2009 looked at the ALICE population in Morris County. In 2012, United Way of Northern New Jersey released the first statewide report, detailing the magnitude and challenges facing ALICE in New Jersey’s 21 counties, using measures developed by Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration Assistant Professor Stephanie Hoopes Halpin.

In partnership with Rutgers University-Newark, the same approach will be used to examine ALICE in the four new states as well as an updated report on New Jersey’s households.

Fifty years after President Johnson delivered his call to action to congress, poverty in the U.S. is on the rise.

Johnson wrote in March of 1964, “The Congress is charged by the Constitution to “provide . . . for the general welfare of the United States. Our present abundance is a measure of its success in fulfilling that duty. Now Congress is being asked to extend that welfare to all our people.”

“The President of the United States is President of all the people in every section of the country. But this office also holds a special responsibility to the distressed and disinherited, the hungry and the hopeless of this abundant nation,” he said.

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