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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

A rising number of working Florida families are unable to afford basic necessities

Three men and one woman paint a house with white paint.
Courtesy of United Way Suncoast
Volunteers help refurbish a home during the Paint Your Heart Out event hosted by United Way Suncoast on Aug. 22.

A report published by United Way Suncoast, COVID and Financial Hardship in Florida, discovers 2 in 5 households in the greater Tampa Bay region were living on the edge of poverty by 2021.

A report released Wednesday by United Way Suncoast and United for ALICE has found that nearly half of Florida households are struggling to afford basic needs, such as food, housing and healthcare.

The calculation defines those living just above the poverty line as ALICE households (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), or individuals and families who are working but cannot afford the basic cost of living in their region. Experts say ALICE households are particularly vulnerable because they earn too much to qualify for public assistance but not enough to afford basic needs.

United Way Suncoast’s CEO Jennifer Muroff said a growing number of households in the greater Tampa Bay region are living at or below this benchmark.

"What that means is that the number of families in our region and across the states that are living paycheck to paycheck continues to rise," she said.

Within United Way Suncoast’s five-county region – Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties – 2 out of every 5 households were at or below the ALICE threshold by 2021, according to the report. The number of ALICE households in the greater Tampa Bay region alone, at 446,760, could pack Raymond James Stadium nearly six times.

The report, which focuses on the particular impact of COVID-19 on cost of living, also found that ALICE households grew by nearly a quarter million in Florida during the first two years of the pandemic.

Now, Muroff said, there’s warning signs the number of ALICE households could grow.

She predicts the suspension of COVID-era relief programs, like the child tax credit and stimulus payments, could unveil a new wave of individuals and families who are living on the edge.

“(The programs) really helped buoy some families and individuals from feeling the very dire impacts from the pandemic,” she said. “But we know that because those programs have expired, that this is going to create even more issues for these families on the horizon.”

Even when supplemented by pandemic-era financial assistance, in 2021, a family of four with two full-time workers fell about $9,000 short of achieving an average annual household budget in Florida, according to the report.

In the greater Tampa Bay region, Muroff said the specific upward pressures on household expenses are being caused by record-high migration to the region, lagging wages compared to everyday expenses and the unprecedented housing burden being placed on residents.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.