In Kalamazoo County, 73% of single mothers and 47% of seniors earn less than a “survival income” necessary to afford life’s basics, according to a recent report.

In several counties, there’s more folks struggling to get by than those living above their survival budgets.

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Lake and Clare counties are tied with the highest rates of residents who are unable to cover the basics at 58%, followed by Iosco and Baraga counties at 53%, and Wayne and Alger counties at 52%. In Gogebic, Ontonagon, and Luce counties 51% are struggling to survive, according to the report.

Overall, 38% of the county’s residents can’t make ends meet, a figure that includes about 12% below the federal poverty line and another 26% who are Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed – a category that means they earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living.

“ALICE households and households in poverty are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent – choices that have long-term consequences not only for their families, but for all,” according to an annual United for ALICE report produced by the United Way.

The 2024 report uses 2022 data and federal poverty thresholds to estimate income different types of households need to cover basics like rent, utilities, food, transportation and other costs, known as a survival budget.

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In Kalamazoo County, those expenses range between $32,328 per year for seniors over the age of 65, to $78,108 for two adults and two children in child care. And while nearly 40% in Kalamazoo County are struggling, the percentage is much higher in other areas of Michigan.

ALICE households “extra vulnerable because although they make too much to qualify for a lot of (social service) programs, they don’t make enough money to adequately meet their needs and deal with any crisis, whether it’s a flat tire, whether it’s the water heater that goes out,” Hassan Hammoud, president of Michigan Association of United Ways said in a video accompanying the report.

“People need to understand that not all expenses are created equal – like transportation,” a resident identified only as Camille told researchers. “Just by living in a certain ZIP code, you’re charged more for insurance and have to go further – meaning buy more gas – to access quality food, grocery stores, etc.”

The scope of Michiganders struggling to live may be staggering, but MLive points out the ALICE report likely underestimates the financial pain.

“Consider: The median gross monthly rent in Kalamazoo County was $1,131 for a two-bedroom unit in 2022, including utilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The ALICE budget assumes a monthly housing budget of $957 for a household with two adults and two children and $774 for a household with one adult and one child,” according to the news site.

“Likewise, the ALICE budget allocates $623 a month for full-time day care for one child. That compares to an average of $1,026 a month for Kalamazoo County infants and toddlers at center-based programs and more than $700 a month for home-based care, according to a U.S. Department of Labor estimate for 2023.”

The ALICE report is one of several highlighting the state’s decline since the pandemic, with others documenting business losses, falling educational outcomes, deteriorating roads, violent crime and population declines.

A Michigan Poverty & Well-being Map recently published by the University of Michigan echoes the findings in the ALICE report, showing 39% of residents experiencing significant economic problems.

The research, based on 2021 U.S. Census data, details skyrocketing housing costs near Detroit and in northwest Michigan, high rates of food insecurity in the east central region, lagging wages in east Michigan, high child poverty rates in the northeast, and the detrimental impact of poor educational outcomes in the south central region.

The data shows residents across the Upper Peninsula are struggling with average housing and transportation costs eating up half of their income, while folks in the southwest earn 8% less than the state median, including nearly 22% in Benton Harbor who earn half of the federal poverty threshold.

Still other findings point to racial disparities in economic security in southeast Michigan, and the state’s record low income and high child poverty rates in Lake County, which are driven in part by sky-high high school dropout rates.

A broader “Best States” ranking from U.S. News & World Report released in May showed Michigan slid another spot to 42nd nationally for 2024 based on “thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens.”

Researchers found Michigan students have below average math test scores, are less likely to graduate high school, and leave college with more debt, when compared to the national average.

Other metrics show Michigan under Whitmer has a higher poverty rate, lower median household income, more industrial toxins, more drinking water violations, less renewable energy usage, worse roads, and higher rates of incarceration and violent crime than most states.