57% of People with Disabilities in TN Live in Financial Hardship

July 26th, 2022

For Immediate Release 
Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Mary Graham
United Ways of Tennessee


New research: 57% of People with Disabilities in Tennessee are Living in Financial Hardship 

New report reveals that federal poverty data significantly undercounts how many people with disabilities are struggling to afford the basics.

The number of people with disabilities in Tennessee who struggle to afford the basics is far higher than federal poverty data indicates — more than 1 million in our state, according to a new report from United Ways of Tennessee and its research partner United For ALICE.

In 2019, while 20% of Tennessee residents with disabilities were deemed in poverty, 37% — nearly twice as many — were ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level but less than what it costs to live and work in the modern economy. Combined, 57% of our state’s residents living with disabilities were below the ALICE Threshold, with income that doesn’t meet the basic costs of housing, childcare, health care, transportation and a smartphone plan.

“On the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we see residents in Tennessee with physical, mental, or emotional conditions are struggling financially, and they are not only being undercounted, but also underserved,” said president, Mary Graham. “Having a disability puts individuals at substantial risk for financial instability, more than many other factors. These individuals face barriers to accessing quality services, education, secure jobs and other critical supports.  The pandemic made things harder, with food insufficiency, interrupted learning, depression, anxiety, and work loss even higher for this population.” 

The new research also shows that outdated federal guidelines prevent the majority of residents with disabilities who are living in financial hardship from accessing critical public assistance. According to the new report, a staggering 85% of Tennessee residents with disabilities below the ALICE Threshold did not receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The program requires that recipients have income below the poverty level, be unable to work, have a “severe” impairment and have less than $2,000 in their bank accounts, $3,000 if they are a married couple.

Black and Hispanic residents with disabilities — 72% and 64% respectively — disproportionately experienced financial hardship compared to 54% of white people with disabilities. And across the board, Tennesseans with disabilities below the ALICE threshold were more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck than those without disabilities.  And the rates of hardship are likely even higher than could be counted as data is not available for individuals living in nursing homes, correctional facilities and other group settings.

More data is available through the ALICE in Focus: People with Disabilities interactive data dashboard, which provides filters for regional and local geographies, age, race, disability status, living arrangements and household work status. Visit UnitedForALICE.org/Focus-Disabilities.

ALICE in Focus: People with Disabilities marks the second installment in the ALICE in Focus Research Series, which draws from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS). Each installment in the series highlights a specific segment within the ALICE demographic. The first installment focused on children; the next report will feature veterans.

About United Ways of Tennessee    

United Ways of Tennessee is the network of the 30 United Ways in our state.  As Tennessee’s leading community solutions provider, United Way is the driving force behind many initiatives that provide solutions to our most critical needs.  We are working to advance the common good by focusing on the building blocks for a good life—education, income, and health.  In addition to providing more than $100 million in funding each year to more than 1200 programs, services, and agencies, we are directly involved in initiatives that address crucial community needs, including: 

  • Crisis response with basic assistance for victims of disasters, such as the pandemic, tornadoes, and fires
  • Food, shelter, and other basic needs for those facing tough times
  • Free 2-1-1 phone access to find health and human services and volunteer opportunities
  • A 1700+ member TN Afterschool Network, advancing the quality and availability of out-of-school programs for children and youth
  • Prevention that reduces use of opioids, tobacco, and other substances
  • Job skills training for people who want to work
  • Health care and other assistance for disabled, vulnerable, and aging populations
  • Initiatives creating economic opportunity and reducing homelessness and poverty

For more information about United Ways of Tennessee, or to find and contact your local United Way, link to www.uwtn.org.  

About United For ALICE 

United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, research, and action to improve life across the country for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and for all. Through the development of the ALICE measurements, a comprehensive, unbiased picture of financial hardship has emerged. Harnessing this data and research on the mismatch between low-paying jobs and the cost of survival, ALICE partners convene, advocate, and collaborate on solutions that promote financial stability at local, state, and national levels. This grassroots ALICE movement, led by United Way of Northern New Jersey, has spread to 24 states and includes United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit: UnitedForALICE.org

Posted by Kelley Nave