Norma Herin organizes shelves at the House of Hope community food pantry located at the Clearinghouse of Jefferson County, 100 E. Second St., Madison. Herin is an intake volunteer and a shopping guide for visiting patrons. (Staff photo by Josh Hunt/jhunt@madisoncourier.com)
Norma Herin organizes shelves at the House of Hope community food pantry located at the Clearinghouse of Jefferson County, 100 E. Second St., Madison. Herin is an intake volunteer and a shopping guide for visiting patrons. (Staff photo by Josh Hunt/jhunt@madisoncourier.com)

A report released by the Indiana Association of United Ways shows that 42 percent of all households in Jefferson County face financial insecurity — where one medical emergency or major life event can force choosing between basic daily needs.

In Switzerland County the numbers are very similar where 40 percent of all households struggle financially.

The report, called ALICE for Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed, originated with a 2009 study conducted by the United Way as a research project on low-income residents of affluent Morris County, N.J. After that first report was released, the United Way commissioned a second ALICE study in 2011 to gauge statewide effects of the country’s recession.

Statistics from that second report revealed 30 percent of New Jersey households statewide earned too little for basic needs, and half the state’s jobs paid less than $20 an hour. The research project soon expanded to include five other states, including Indiana.

According to data in the 2012 ALICE report for Indiana, 37 percent of Indiana households struggle to afford basic household needs. A staggering 352,042 households live in poverty and 570,300 households are considered ALICE households.

That’s 922,342 households in Indiana that live at or below an income level where daily decisions come down to choices between school books or health care; nourishing food or child care.

The ALICE threshold is the line at which families and individuals cease to barely survive on their income and actually become stable. Stable households no longer live check-to-check are better able to handle life’s ups and downs and even have opportunities to invest and save.

Although there are many factors influencing the statistics, one has to do with the cost of living in Indiana. According to data from ALICE, the cost of living increased by 10 percent in Indiana between 2007 and 2012. To survive and provide basic daily needs, an Indiana household of four needs at least $47,000 a year, and a single adult needs at least $17,000 a year.

The median household income in Jefferson County is $41,004.

 ALICE households live on the most basic budgets at which they can survive. Their budget includes basic housing, food, child care and transportation with nothing left over. People within this range often live every day hoping that their car starts or that they don’t get sick.

Unknown variables can make daily survival even more of a challenge. ALICE households often cope with problems by opting for short-term solutions that are often detrimental in the long run. They might choose to forego preventive healthcare or skip non-vital bill payments to make ends meet. As the cost of living continues to rise, they might turn to more risky behavior like taking out loans with high interest rates that are difficult to pay off.

Even though the odds seem stacked against ALICE households, there is hope.

 Molly Dodge, director of the Clearinghouse of Jefferson County, said one big positive is that ALICE residents are typically problem solvers. They often have to choose between which bills to pay, and this can lead to creative ways of thinking. They often rely on “relationships and interconnections” throughout their community to devise short-term solutions.

But even problem solvers need a helping hand, Dodge said, and that’s where agencies like the Clearinghouse come in.

 “ALICE people sometimes can’t get enough control over variables in their lives,” Dodge said, adding that organizations such as the Clearinghouse offer ways to work creatively and allow people to access much-needed resources.

At the Clearinghouse, they might find the short-term support that will allow then to forge better solutions for the long run, Dodge said. Many of the people who come to the Clearinghouse have been beaten down — emotionally and physically — and need support to help build themselves back up.

Services at the Clearinghouse are all about removing barriers and offering support. However, this doesn’t mean the Clearinghouse offers a quick fix, Dodge said.

 “You can’t just say ‘I’ll solve all your problems,’” she noted. “It can sometimes take six to seven years to move someone out of poverty.”

 Clearinghouse programs help people achieve better skill sets, which in turn can open doors to better jobs and life opportunities. These programs include job placement programs such as Rural Works!, adult education and child care vouchers that assist adults with children while they obtain more education.

Access to these programs give people a good start in a society where having a college degree is often a requirement for a job, Dodge said.

With a focus on networking and outreach, the offices for many non-profit organizations can be found in the Clearinghouse building in Madison, located at 100 E. Second St., making it easier for people to get the services they need without having to travel long distances.

Organizations such as Centerstone, a community based behavioral health care provider, Children’s Advocacy Center of Southeastern Indiana, the United Way, and the Jefferson County Community Corrections can be found there.

There’s also a collaborative food pantry, where people can get food as well as referrals to life-altering programs provided by other agencies that call the Clearinghouse home.

Looking ahead, Dodge sees a bigger perspective spanning across county borders. She said the Clearinghouse is looking forward to networking with other communities and counties to help them jump-start their own betterment programs.

“Indiana has room for improvement in providing relief to families in poverty,” Dodge said, adding that ALICE needs a voice, and organizations like Clearinghouse are able to provide that.

“People feel hopeless, and I don’t want them to feel that way,” Dodge said. “There are resources available that they can use to better their financial and living situations.”