Report: This is the 'bare minimum' someone in Hamilton County, Tennessee needs to earn to live and work

Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, is seen in the foreground as the Electric Power Board Building, Read House and Waterhouse Pavilion dominate the city skyline. Rain coats the sidewalks and streets of downtown Chattanooga on January 29, 2018. The tri-state had expected snow, but the few flakes made no impact on travel.

The number of Hamilton County families facing financial hardship has increased in recent years, from 37% in 2010 to 39% by 2017, according to a new study by the United Ways of Tennessee.

More than 30 United Ways from across the state worked with local partners to assess the number of Tennessee households that did not meet federal poverty guidelines but were asset limited, income constrained and employed, also known as the ALICE threshold. The report is a project of United For ALICE, which includes 600 United Ways across the country.

In 2010, ALICE and poverty-level households made up 37% of Hamilton County households compared to 39% in 2017. While the number of households living below the poverty line has gone from 14% to 13% in that time frame, the number of ALICE households has gone from 23% to 26%.

A single person in Hamilton County would need to earn $10.08 an hour, or at least $20,160 per year, in order to live and work in the county today. A family of four that includes one infant and one preschooler would need to earn a combined $54,624 annually, or $27.31 an hour, to meet household needs.

These numbers do not include savings for emergencies or future goals like college, according to the report.

"The report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in our state to-date," said Mary Graham, president of United Ways of Tennessee. "Unlike the official federal poverty level, which doesn't accurately account for local costs of living, our report factors in the costs of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic needs to determine what it truly costs to live in Tennessee."

Households with income below the ALICE threshold make up between 20% and 59% of households in every county in Tennessee, according to the report, "ALICE in Tennessee: A Financial Hardship Study," which was released Friday.

Several other key statewide findings were noted:

  • Thirty-eight percent of families with underage children live below the ALICE threshold.
  • Minorities, women, those identifying as LGBTQ, those with lower levels of education, those with disabilities, recent undocumented immigrants, younger veterans and formerly incarcerated people were all more likely to live in ALICE households.
  • More than 40% of Tennessee's senior households live below the ALICE threshold.
  • In 2017, 47% of the households in the city of Chattanooga fell below the ALICE threshold. The percentage of ALICE families in Nashville was 35%, and percentage of ALICE families in Memphis was 54% the same year.

"We will use this information to raise awareness and take action to address the growing ranks of ALICE households across Tennessee," Graham said. "These working families are doing their part, but as our data makes clear, hard work alone is not enough to survive and thrive. We now have a nonpartisan tool that United Way can use to partner with businesses, government, nonprofits, the faith-based community, and our state's citizens to help struggling families move up."

A survival budget published with the ALICE report shows that a single person in Tennessee must earn at least $9.52 an hour to cover the cost of living, while two adults with an infant and a preschooler would need to earn a combined $25.40 a hour.

According to the report, family costs increased by 23% statewide from 2010 to 2017, compared to 12% inflation nationally.

"ALICE expands our collective knowledge of those who provide many essential services in our community," said Eileen Rehberg, director of community impact, data analysis and strategy at the United Way of Greater Chattanooga. "The analysis in the ALICE report demonstrates the critical role our community support systems play when those with limited resources cannot meet essential needs. This report describes our neighbors, our families and ourselves - at times when anyone one of us might reach out for help."

Contact Joan McClane at