Research Center • District of Columbia
We all know people who are ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — earning more than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford the basics where they live. ALICE workers were celebrated as essential heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they do not earn enough to support their own families.
ALICE households and households in poverty are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent — choices that have long-term consequences not only for their families, but for all.
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District of Columbia
District Reports 2021
The District Profile highlights key aspects of the local economy, including details related to demographics, the cost of living, and the labor landscape.
ALICE IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited,
Income Constrained, Employed — households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county. While conditions have improved for some households, many continue to struggle, especially as wages fail to keep pace with the rising cost of household essentials (housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a basic smartphone plan). Households below the ALICE Threshold — ALICE households plus those in poverty — can’t afford the essentials.
Number of Households:
Median Household Income:
Labor Force Participation Rate:
Households in Poverty:
Financial Hardship Has Changed Over Time in the District of Columbia
As circumstances change, households may find themselves below or above the ALICE Threshold at different times. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought employment shifts, health struggles, and school/business closures in 2021, it also spurred unprecedented public assistance through pandemic relief measures. In 2019, 116,939 households in District of Columbia were below the ALICE Threshold; by 2021 that number had changed to 135,314. Use the buttons below to switch between ALICE data over time by number and percentage.
Financial Hardship is Not Equally Distributed
By total number, groups with the largest population of households below the ALICE Threshold tend to also be in the largest demographic groups. However, when looking at the proportion of each group that is below the ALICE Threshold, it is clear that some groups are more likely to be ALICE than others.
Households by Race/Ethnicity, District of Columbia, 2021
There were also differences in financial hardship by household type and age of householder.
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The Cost of Basics Outpaces Wages
The Household Survival Budget reflects the minimum cost to live and work in the modern economy and includes housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, a smartphone plan, and taxes. It does not include savings for emergencies or future goals like college or retirement. In 2021, household costs the District of Columbia were well above the Federal Poverty Level of $12,880 for a single adult and $26,500 for a family of four.
The Labor Landscape is Challenging for ALICE Workers
A small portion of adults (16 years and older) in the District of Columbia were unemployed and a large number were working in 2021. However, a significant portion of both full and part-time workers are paid by the hour; these workers are more likely to have fluctuations in income and less likely to receive benefits.