ALICE in Promiseland
Many people go to college for better career opportunities. A college degree is seen as a one-way ticket to financial stability. Unfortunately, for many young graduates today that ticket to financial stability is not as simple as it sounds.
Meg Valentino is a 24-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Mount Saint Mary’s University, yet she can’t afford basic living necessities in Frederick County. She works full-time as a mental health worker. “I love my job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else due to the amount of joy it brings me to help other people," she says.
Even though mental health work provides a valuable service to the community, it comes with a modest salary. Regardless of working 50 hours or more a week, she earns less than $30,000 annually, which is well under the ALICE survival threshold of $35,316 for a single individual. Her low income combined with Frederick County’s high cost of living and student loans creates a high level of financial uncertainty.
Student loan debt of $50,000 is a substantial burden for Meg. It’s important to understand that debt is not included in the ALICE survival budget. In other words, for Meg and the 44.2 million Americans just like her, the basic cost of living is substantially higher.
Getting back on her feet after graduating college has been extremely difficult. Although employed, she is living out of a spare room in her parents' home. Multiple attempts to find affordable housing in the Frederick area have proved unsuccessful. “It’s rare to find a studio or one bedroom apartment with basic amenities for less or around $1,000, which I couldn’t even fathom right now on top of all my other monthly expenses,” Meg says.
Meg even applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to try to offset some of her daily living expenses but was ultimately denied. “It’s as if I walked across the stage at graduation straight into the public assistance line,” leaving Meg with the question,
"Why can't a hardworking and educated young person afford the basic cost of living?"
This is a similar question asked by the 85% of Frederick County households under 25 years of age who are living below the ALICE threshold. She has friends and co-workers in the exact same position, and they are equally as frustrated. “We encourage our children to have positive impact on the world,” Meg says, “but in their attempt to do so, they struggle to make ends meet.”