Groundbreaking Study Reveals 31% of Iowans Struggle to Afford the Basics

 United Way ALICE Report details size and scope of financial hardship in Iowa


IMPORTANT NOTE: To read an embargoed copy of the report and find county-by-county and municipal-level data on the size and demographics of ALICE, as well as the costs and community conditions faced by ALICE households, visit and contact Deann Cook at for your password. The document is available to media only and is embargoed until 12:01 am on June 29th.


Deann Cook, Executive Director of the United Ways of Iowa association, and the CEOs and Research Advisory Committee members providing quotes (in addendum) are available for interviews. Cook will be hosting a tele-press conference at 10:00 am June 29th. For instruction on joining that call, contact Cook at or 515-971-5286.


Excel data on ALICE households by county is available upon request (also embargoed until 12:01 am on June 29th)


Des Moines, Iowa – In Iowa, 381,266 households – 31 percent of the state’s total – are unable to afford the state’s cost of living, according to the United Way ALICE Report for Iowa to be released on June 29th.


ALICE, which stands for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed, places a spotlight on a large population of hardworking residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings, and are one emergency away from falling into poverty. ALICE is a conceptual blending of those who are working and earning, but are not able to afford a basic needs budget in the county in which they live. The United Way ALICE Report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial needs in the state to date, using data from a variety of sources, including the US Census. The report unveils new measures, based on present-day income levels and expenses that show how many Iowa workers are struggling financially, and why.


“If we look around, we see ALICE performing the jobs that keep our communities functioning smoothly,” said Deann Cook, United Ways of Iowa Executive Director. “ALICE is in our coffee shops, convenience stores, and taking care of our youngest and oldest citizens. She is also one medical crisis or car repair away from total financial emergency.”


A total of 381,266 Iowa households fall into what United Way calls the ALICE population. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less that the very basic cost of living in their communities. In Iowa, 12% of the population (148,239 households) live below the Federal Poverty Level. The United Way ALICE Report for Iowa shows that an ADDITIONAL 19% (233,027 households) are unable to afford life’s basic necessities despite having income above the Federal Poverty Level designation.


The 302-page United Way ALICE Report for Iowa reveals many points of data, including:


  • ALICE lives across Iowa - ALICE households make up between 21% and 41% of every county in Iowa


  • More than a quarter of Iowa’s households that include children (92,378) have incomes below the ALICE Threshold


  • More than one quarter – 28% - of senior households qualify as ALICE


  • The average annual household survival budget for a four-person family in Iowa is $46,680. Almost double the US Poverty Level amount of $23,850 for the same family.


  • Annually, public and private spending on Iowa households below the ALICE Threshold, which includes families below the FPL, was $6.7 billion.


“United Ways of Iowa has worked with 12 United Way funding partners across the state, and the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation to bring the United Way ALICE project to our state. This collaborative funding has allowed us to use this non-partisan, objective data to ignite conversations where communities, nonprofits, public officials and corporate partners can better understand the challenges faced by hard-working Iowans and to consider the effects of their decisions on this population that is vital to Iowa’s economy,” said Cook.


The United Way ALICE Report for Iowa provides high-quality, research-based information to foster a better understanding of our communities. The research was led by Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, Ph.D., United Way ALICE Project National Director. Her staff collaborated with a 13-person Iowa Research Advisory Committee which represented a number of Iowa’s colleges, universities, state departments and nonprofits, who advised and contributed to this report.


Iowa is the eleventh state to complete an ALICE study. This collaborative model, practiced in each state, ensures each United Way ALICE Report presents unbiased data that is replicable, easily updated periodically, and sensitive to local context. Working closely with United Ways, the United Way ALICE Project seeks to equip communities with information to create innovative solutions.




About United Ways of Iowa

United Ways of Iowa is an association of the 25 local United Ways serving over half of Iowa’s 99 counties. Our mission is to bring together the power of United Ways and their local communities to drive impact in education, income and health. We are part of a global network of more than 1,800 United Ways, serving communities in 41 countries.



Quotes from Iowa ALICE Research Advisory Committee Members and United Way CEOs (also available for interviews):


United Way of Muscatine

Shane Orr, Executive Director



United Way of Muscatine is a proud partner in bringing ALICE to Iowa. Throughout the state, there are many families who are working but are still not able to meet their basic needs of housing, child care, food, and transportation. These are your friends, neighbors and coworkers. It's time to bring focus to this often overlooked group. The ALICE report will help us start the conversations about how we can best help this growing segment of our community.”

Glennda M. Bivens, M. Ed.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Research Advisory Committee


“The ALICE report gives a comprehensive look into the reality of the changing economic trends in the state of Iowa broadly, and in each county specifically. While Iowa is a great place to work, play, and live, there are some economic challenges that, as a community, we should be proactive in addressing.”  


Dr. Helene Grossman

United Way of Central Iowa

Research Advisory Committee



“The data in the Iowa ALICE report will help to clarify and affirm our concerns about poverty in central Iowa and support our Opportunity work with poverty reduction. At United Way of Central Iowa, we are data driven, and the data in the report takes us to a new level of understanding the working poor in our state and community. We are so excited to share the report with our partners and community.”




Mary Nelle Trefz, MPH

Child & Family Policy Center

515.280.9027 X112


“The ALICE Report is a valuable tool for policymakers, advocates, business leaders, and community members alike. The data in this report paints a picture of families in our state who are working hard but still struggling to make ends meet. By developing a greater understanding of the challenges that these Iowa families face, we can more effectively support families, strengthen communities, and improve the well-being of all Iowans.”  



United Way of Story County

Jean Kresse, President & CEO



“United Ways of Iowa invested in a statewide ALICE report to provide a tool to all our members for identifying challenges. We are very excited the data will be provided at the county level. This will allow local United Ways of all sizes to benefit from relevant data for the communities they serve.”



United Way of Central Iowa

Elisabeth Buck, Chief Community Impact Officer



“What makes the ALICE report significant is that it includes granular data that will help us understand the challenges of the working poor. It will also dispel the myth that most people living poverty are unemployed - the report gives a face to the many working Iowans who are struggling to make ends meet.”



United Way of Siouxland

Heather Hennings, President & CEO



“We are so excited to share our report with policymakers throughout Iowa. This data supports the reasoning behind United Ways’ focus on education, income and health and will be very powerful in giving our city, county and state officials information that will help them to make decisions to positively affect our communities.”