A recent report by the United Way of Charles County showed that more than a quarter of Charles County residents are either struggling just to get by or already living in poverty.
It’s a tough pill to swallow.
The report, dubbed ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed, used standardized measurements to survey the growing number of individuals and families who are working, but are having difficulty affording basic necessities including housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.
According to the report, 25 percent of people living in Charles County can be categorized as ALICE, while another 7 percent are already living in poverty. And the largest percentage of ALICE individuals are spread out all over Charles County, with 34 percent living in Waldorf, 40 percent in Cobb Island, 45 percent in Bryantown, 37 percent in Bryans Road and, perhaps the most unsettling, 46 percent in Indian Head.
The report also ranked the county as a whole in its ability to provide affordable housing, jobs and community resources. The county ranked “poor” for affordable housing — noted by local United Way Executive Director Mike Bellis as the “lowest score in the state” — and just “good” for job opportunities and community resources.
The “household survival budget” for a family of four with one infant and one preschooler is $74,688 in Charles, while a single adult needs to earn $31,536 just to survive without living on the street. Again, that’s to survive, not live comfortably.
So what can be done? There isn’t a magic bullet here. Three of the five areas identified as having the largest percentage of ALICE individuals are in the western part of the county, in Bryans Road, Indian Head and Cobb Island. Indian Head in particular has been the center of the conversation between its town council and mayor as an area desperate for revitalization, looking to partner with both the county and the adjacent Navy base to make it happen. The Charles County Chamber of Commerce has its Military Alliance Committee working on that problem as well.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan has also spurred a great debate on how much of the western part of the county should be marked for preservation versus future development. From our point of view, land preservation is certainly important, but so is helping those who are living paycheck to paycheck, losing sleep at night wondering how they are going to get to work the next day, or if they need to visit a local food pantry instead of the grocery store in order to feed their family.
What is reassuring about all of this is that the United Way is in a position to do something about it. Charles County is home to a great many organizations that do assist those with low incomes, and most of them are already in some way tied to the United Way. The ALICE report will serve as a guide to help the United Way and its partner organizations find further ways to offer support to these citizens.
There are a multitude of obstacles in the way in order to overcome this harsh reality, but, hopefully, the needs of our fellow men and women will take precedence over squabbling over who gets a larger part of the pie.