Guest Column: Courtney Edgcomb

Guest Column: Courtney Edgcomb

Over 100,000 households in Volusia County feel the squeeze of rising inflation and financial hardship and are currently struggling to make ends meet. The most recent A.L.I.C.E (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) data collected post-COVID shows an increase in households that are making less than the basic cost of living for our community – estimated at $26,892 for an individual and $67,896 for a family of four. 42% of Volusia households are either in poverty or below the A.L.I.C.E threshold. The report is conducted by Rutgers University on behalf of the United Ways of Florida on a regular basis.

The 2021 data highlights the challenges that A.L.I.C.E workers face in the post-COVID world. Economic supports during the immediate COVID response cushioned negative financial impacts, but as these supports have phased out, food insufficiency (which is higher than the state average), rising housing costs, and learning loss challenges do not bode well for these families. Perhaps one of the biggest threats to our community is rising housing costs – 55% of households in Volusia County are considered “housing burdened” paying more than 30% of their monthly income on rent or mortgage expenses. Essentially, even households making more than the rudimentary household survival budget are housing-burdened; countering the national trend of better housing affordability.

There are many ways that businesses can support workers that are within the A.L.I.C.E population. Companies can offer hybrid schedules, competitive compensation packages, or sponsor growth opportunities for their employees to build skills. Paid days off and flex time can go a long way for employees with children and those dealing with health issues. Advocating for sliding-scale services like childcare and health insurance are two ways to support A.L.I.C.E workers through public policy. You can also share resources that may support them if they fall on an emergency period 2-1-1 is the best way to get connected and navigate our local resources. Sharing additional resources like the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties VITA free tax preparation program that operates each spring can ease some of the strain for your workforce. The stress of financial instability can also have a negative effect on employee mental health. Partnering with local mental health organizations to offer counseling services or interventions are another way companies can offer support.

A.L.I.C.E families make up almost half our community – as businesses with a vested interest in the health and prosperity of our community, it is imperative that we support and stabilize those who are the most vulnerable. Together, we can improve the quality of life for our employees and make a more vibrant and successful Volusia County.

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Courtney Edgcomb is the President/CEO of the Community Foundation and United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties. For 10 years, she has committed to enhancing community resources and building a stronger Volusia and Flagler community.