The number of Rock County families struggling with poverty could increase over time due to the sustained disruption of COVID-19, according to United Way Blackhawk Region President Mary Fanning-Penny.

That grim prediction follows a statewide report showing Rock County residents facing tougher hardships than other Wisconsin residents as they try to make ends meet. The Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) looks at the portion of the state’s population that is working, but has a hard time making ends meet.

Data from the report centers on those who live just above the federal poverty level, but do not receive government assistance. On average, one in four households (25%) earn less than the basic cost of living for residing in Rock County, 2% higher than the state average of 23%.

The report shows that 14,140 (52%) of City of Beloit households are at ALICE and federal poverty levels, the highest in the county. In Janesville, that figure drops to 11%.

“We try to shed a light on families that are working hard in our communities but still might be struggling to make ends meet,” Fanning-Penny said. “We are trending slightly worse than the state average. By community, it helps guide investments or grants and initiatives for those experiencing higher poverty or hardship.”

Since March 11, Fanning-Penny said local calls to the 211 information center that provides essential community services have tripled with people seeking COVID-19 information.

“Our other top needs have been mental health and addiction services, housing assistance and food insecurity,” Fanning-Penny said. “We’ve been impressed with how nimble various nonprofits have been since March in continuing to serve the community.”

Fanning-Penny said she was concerned the report highlighted 33% of Wisconsin households did not have reliable internet access that could create additional barriers for education of children in low income households in the time of distance e-learning.

“I think in terms of ALICE families, these families are vulnerable to handle about one emergency at a time, from a car breaking down or a major home repair,” she said. “That’s what will be concerning if we are going to see more people who were considered at the ALICE level have now fallen to below the poverty line in the time of COVID-19.”

To see more about the report, visit unitedwaywi.org/page/ALICE#InteractiveDashboard.

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