Groundbreaking Study: As COVID Hit, 45% of West Virginia Households Already Couldn’t Afford Basics

Charleston, West Virginia – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 45% of West Virginia households were already unable to afford household basics, never having recovered from the Great Recession, according to the ALICE Report released today by the West Virginia United Way Collaborative, in partnership with United For ALICE and with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

ALICE® – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed: A Financial Hardship Study reveals the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to be inaccurate and inadequate in measuring financial hardship. It places a spotlight on the growing ranks of hardworking residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings, and who were one emergency away from falling into poverty at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Report uses the latest data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census, to quantify how many households in West Virginia are struggling financially, and why.

In addition to the 124,411 West Virginia households in poverty in 2019, another 203,547 households were ALICE — earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than what it costs to survive. Combined, these struggling households fall below the ALICE Threshold, the average income needed to survive in today’s economy. They grew to account for 45% of West Virginia’s 729,439 households in 2019, up from 38% in 2007.

ALICE workers were locked out of the post-Recession economic boom due to stagnant wages and the rising cost of six essentials — housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a basic smartphone plan — that outpaced inflation. Their inability to establish savings due to meager pay raises and inconsistent job hours, schedules, and benefits left them especially vulnerable to the dual economic and health crises of the pandemic. 

The ALICE Report for West Virginia reveals:

  • ALICE includes people of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities, living in rural, urban and suburban communities, mirroring the state’s basic demographic make-up. However, some groups are disproportionately represented in hardship due to longstanding discrimination and systemic racism, sexism and ageism. In 2019, 59% of Black households and 45% of Hispanic households in West Virginia fell below the ALICE Threshold vs. 44% of White households. In addition, 52% of senior households, 80% of single-female-headed families, and 71% of those headed by someone under 25 years old could not afford the basics.

  • The basic cost of living in West Virginia is well above the FPL, ranging from $22,296 for a single adult, to $24,984 for a single senior, to $61,908 for a family of four with an infant and a preschooler. Meanwhile, the occupation projected to have the largest number of new jobs in West Virginia — fast food and counter worker — earns a median wage of $9.70 per hour, which is not enough to support any of these budgets.

  • Jobs paying less than $20 per hour account for 64% of all jobs in West Virginia. 

  • Low-wage jobs, which cannot support the family Household Survival Budget with two earners, grew by 92% between 2007 and 2019. Meanwhile, the number of high-wage jobs, or jobs that support the family Household Survival Budget with one earner, decreased by 35% during the same period.

  • The cost of household basics, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and a smartphone plan, rose at an average rate of 3.4% annually nationwide over the past decade. That’s in contrast with an annual rate of inflation of 1.8%. 

  • Households one income bracket above the ALICE Threshold fell into financial hardship following the Recession, growing the ranks of ALICE households. If the same were to happen post-pandemic, the nearly 41,000 West Virginia households just above the Threshold could become ALICE, bringing the number of struggling households up from 45% to 51%. 

“This report provides objective data that can inform the state’s pandemic recovery, taking into consideration the lessons learned following the Recession,” said the report’s lead researcher, United For ALICE Director Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D. “Through no fault of their own, ALICE families were priced out of economic stability, setting the stage for the unprecedented economic impact of the pandemic.” 

“Getting back to normal will not be good enough — we must do better,” said West Virginia United Way Collaborative Chair Brett White. “United Way is turning this ALICE data into actionable goals for long-term change. We are working toward a future where West Virginia ALICE households can afford to save for an emergency, access health care, and give their children the tools for a successful life.”

The ALICE Report for West Virginia was supported in part by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and is a project of United For ALICE, a grassroots movement of some 675 United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in 24 states, all using the same methodology to document financial need.

For more information or to find data about ALICE in local communities, visit

About the West Virginia United Way Collaborative
The West Virginia United Way Collaborative is made up of the 13 United Ways across the mountain state. The collaborative takes collective action to fight for the health, education, and financial stability of everyone living in our state.  As West Virginia’s leading community solutions provider, we are the driving force behind many initiatives that provide solutions to the most critical needs, including West Virginia 211 and the ALICE report.  For more information, visit:

About United For ALICE

United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, shining a light on the challenges ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households face and finding collaborative solutions. Through a standardized methodology that assesses the cost of living in every county, this project provides a comprehensive measure of financial hardship across the U.S. Equipped with this data, ALICE partners convene, advocate, and innovate in their local communities to highlight the issues faced by ALICE households and to generate solutions that promote financial stability. The grassroots movement represents United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information,