United Way of Westchester and Putnam’s Women’s Leadership Council hosted a panel discussion about helping the ALICE population in the county at its sold-out “Take a Walk in Her Shoes” breakfast held at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The event celebrated the remarkable work of Jan Fisher, executive director of Nonprofit Westchester, and Aleida Frederico, former senior relationship manager, VP, TD Bank, and chair of Westchester Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who were each recognized as Women of Distinction. It was a fundraiser to support programs helping ALICE women, children, and families. CBS News anchor and author Mary Calvi was a guest speaker at the breakfast.
ALICE is an acronym coined by United Way to describe asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed individuals, what was formerly called the working poor. At its core, it is a new way of defining and understanding the struggles of households that earn just above the Federal Poverty Level but not enough for a survival budget.
In Westchester County, 40% of families live as ALICE or in poverty, and some groups are disproportionately represented. The ALICE report shows that in Westchester County, 71% of single female-headed households with children are considered ALICE or living in poverty and that African American/Black or Hispanic households are more than 50% likely to be so.
“ALICE households are everywhere … in Peekskill and Mount Vernon, but also Scarsdale and Pound Ridge,” said United Way CEO Tom Gabriel. “These are hard-working families struggling to make ends meet, but when a crisis or tragedy occurs, they must make difficult decisions between paying the rent or fixing a car so they can get to work. These people add to our economy and enrich our lives and community.”
The panel discussion was led by Elizabeth Bracken Thompson, partner at Thompson & Bender and a former Women of Distinction honoree, and featured Fisher, Frederico, Taryn Duffy, the 2021 Woman of Distinction and vice president, Public Affairs Northeast Group, Empire City Casino & MGM Springfield; and Michelle A. Nicholas, chief diversity officer & director of community development, PCSB Bank.
Despite the professional success of the panel members, several of the women personally experienced the hardships of being ALICE. Frederico grew up in an ALICE household with her parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet in Tarrytown after immigrating from Cuba. Nicholas, who immigrated to the US from Guyana, became ALICE when as a single mother, she became unemployed for almost a year. Duffy, who was raised in a middle-class family, was ALICE after leaving an abusive marriage and becoming a single mother.
As individuals who lived as ALICE, the group mentioned what would have helped them the most during that time. “When I was struggling, having access to information and resources would have helped,” said Duffy. Frederico added that there should be ways to help immigrants learn English and about local programs and services available.
Nicholas shared what her life was like when she was unemployed. Since her unemployment totaled $1,100 a month, she did not qualify for SNAP, despite being a single mother of a young child and having to pay $900 in rent. Nicholas got rid of her cable, telephone, and every other extra in her life. The daycare center where her son attended helped her get aid through the Child Care Council of Westchester so she could have time to look for a job. Each day Nicholas walked to the Mount Vernon Library and paid to use its computer and internet to find a job. After 364 days, she received an offer and had to accept it even though it was not a well-paid position because it still paid more than she was receiving on unemployment.
“You can open the door and give opportunities to someone,” said Nicholas. “Be fair, be respectful, and know that we are all trying here; we are all trying. You can help somebody today by considering the salaries you’re paying them; think about what you could be doing for the families.”
Frederico and Duffy credit those who were willing to open the door for them to be able to achieve financial stability. “I am so thankful to the white men [in the banking industry] who were willing to mentor me and give me a chance,” said Frederico.
“I worked in law offices around people who had money, then went into politics, and people had money, and I asked how this works,” said Duffy. “I asked how you got here, how do I do this better, and then as I learned it, I did things differently.
The ALICE survival budget shows that a single adult needs to earn at least $15.64 in a full-time position to survive in Westchester County. A family with two adults and two children in childcare must earn a minimum of $49.50 per hour to survive. Fisher, who advocates for companies to pay their employees a decent wage, spoke about how hourly workers are the lifeblood of the community and should be paid their value.
“Too many of the nonprofit workforce, those who care for our families in nursing homes, are providing childcare, or are hospital workers, suffer many of the same indignities as the people they serve,” said Fisher. “Some are living in homeless shelters, at least partially because of unfair and misguided caps on wages; these people are 80% women and over 50% people of color. They were deemed essential during the pandemic they are still essential.”
Fisher continued. “We have a lot of conversations among government, business, and nonprofits about a $15 minimum wage and how it will hurt our community. It will not hurt our community. We must find a way to do it. Let’s have all the sectors come together and find a way to respect people and pay them for their worth so they can live and thrive in our society.”
It is difficult for low-wage earners to be financially stable. “You could be laid off, not having an opportunity to have flexibility concerning childcare necessarily, or having paid leave,” said Frederico, a proponent of entrepreneurship and economic development in Westchester County. “For some people owning their own business is an alternative. It’s an opportunity to increase their income and be their own boss. It offers access to benefits such as health insurance and control of their own schedules” Entrepreneurship is a way to achieve financial stability and create generational wealth.
Duffy said lifting people up is everyone’s responsibility, not just the CEOs. “I would challenge everybody here today to look around you and find the opportunity to do something, whether it’s supporting a nonprofit, being engaged in your community, supporting the people around you, or ensuring that resources are available in your workplace for people,” she said. “It is incumbent upon each of us to take that on as our own responsibility because we are the people that are going to lift up the people around us.”
Take a Walk in Her Shoes was generously sponsored by Con Edison, ExtensisHR, M&T Bank, PURE Insurance, TD Bank, Signature Bank, and White Plains Hospital.
For more information about ALICE, visit www.uwwp.org/alice.