Reality Check

Reality Check

Traditional measures of poverty do not capture the magnitude of people who are struggling financially. Reality Check is a series that makes the invisible visible by shining a light on the true number of families struggling in Harris County and across the U.S.
Access to early education, affordable housing, traditional lending, and healthcare can help to break the cycle of living hand to mouth, this series explores how we as a community can make this a reality.

#1 Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed

Individuals in Harris County are struggling. Almost 50% of the Houston workforce does not make enough money to support a family. Many in our community cannot always pay the bills, have little or nothing in savings, and are forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality child care or paying the rent. One unexpected car repair or medical bill can push these financially strapped families over the edge.

The future success of our communities is directly tied to the financial stability of these fragile working households. In episode one, we explore who these people are, how our economy has changed over the last 40 years, and what it means to be asset limited or income constrained while employed.

#2 The COVID-19 Constrain

At least 47% of Greater Houston Area families are living below the poverty level.
Those numbers were calculated before the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that COVID-19 hardships have caused more families to become financially strained and has made life even tougher for those who were already struggling. Families who were already living on the edge are having to make tough short-term financial decisions about healthcare, education, and work that can have long term effects on their ability to pull themselves out of poverty.
In episode 2 of Reality Check, we examine who are the most vulnerable in our community as Harris County grapples with COVID-19.

#3 The Importance Of Early Education

It is crucial to expose children to new experiences and ideas early on, because 90% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of 5.
The data clearly shows that children who receive early, quality education outperform those who do not. Yet access to affordable childcare is a challenge for many, especially those who live paycheck to paycheck.

In episode 3 of Reality Check, we explore what quality childcare is all about,
and what parents can do to help ensure that their child develops a healthy
love of the classroom.

#4 The Impact Of Out Of School Time

Children are constantly learning. With a large majority of a child’s waking hours spent outside of the classroom, what happens before and after school plays a much bigger role in a child’s development than many of us acknowledge.
Afterschool programs have proven to support social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development, reduce risky behaviors, promote physical health, and provide a safe and supportive environment for children and youth.
In episode 4 of Reality Check, we explore what we as a community can do to insure that a child’s support network doesn’t disappear when the dismissal bell rings.

#5 The True Cost Of Good Health

Families living paycheck to paycheck face many circumstances that can make it difficult for them to achieve and maintain good health. With little or no access to healthcare providers, nutritious diets, or good information, many families simply aren’t able to be active participants in their health outcomes. As we’ve learned in the pandemic, the health of our community is fragile, and we are much safer when everyone has access to medical services.
In episode 5 of Reality Check, we explore the many challenges of navigating the healthcare system in the United States and what we as a community can do to help ensure that working families aren’t having to make life or death decisions based solely on their income.

#6 The Effects Of Poor Mental Health

Good health is about physical and mental wellbeing. A person’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing are just as crucial as physical health, and they all impact one another substantially.
For families struggling to make ends meet, the stress of day to day life can become overwhelming and prolonged, leading to higher risks for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and poor physical health outcomes.
In Episode 6 of Reality Check, we explore some of the situational factors that can lead to diminishing mental health and how those scenarios can further push a family deeper into a cycle of poverty and duress.

#7 Financial Stability

Financial Security for ALICE families (asset limited, income constrained, employed) is largely dependent on access to and the costs of basic necessities like housing, food, transportation, childcare, and healthcare.
But when families struggle to cover these basic costs, financial stability can quickly spiral out of control, leading to bad credit and missed opportunities.
In Episode 7 we discuss the situation millions of families find themselves in when struggling to stay ahead of the bills and what resources could most benefit ALICE families in Texas.

#8 Accessing Better Jobs

In 2019, before the pandemic began, research showed that 43% of Houston households could not cover the cost of basic needs. Now in 2022, amid a new and fluctuating job landscape, experts are in agreement that the number has risen since then.
It’s clear one of the largest issues facing ALICE households is access to better paying jobs with benefits, but it’s not as easy as scanning the classifieds. Many of the good jobs in our new economy require training, education, and an ability to network with other professionals in the industry. In addition to those obstacles, 80% of employers run a credit check along with a background check, which can further complicate the job hunt for ALICE workers.
In episode 8 of Reality Check, we take a look at what it takes for an ALICE household to elevate themselves out of low paying jobs and into careers that can help build financial security for the future.