You don't have to meet the federal poverty level to struggle financially in Whatcom

Top 5 metropolitan areas with highest poverty growth in U.S.

Four of the top 5 metro areas that saw the biggest jump in poverty from 2010-2016 are in the western United States.
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Four of the top 5 metro areas that saw the biggest jump in poverty from 2010-2016 are in the western United States.

Nearly two in five Whatcom County households struggles to make ends meet, according to a recent study, forcing those families to make tough choices, such as whether to get quality child care or pay the rent.

The United Way's ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Contrained, Employed) study uses a set of standardized measurements to estimate the cost of a basic household budget in each county every two years. According to the study's website, the ALICE Threshold represents the minimum annual income necessary to cover household essentials, such as housing, child care, food, transportation, technology, health care, taxes and other contingencies, in a certain area.

An ALICE household earns more income than the federal poverty amount, but still does not make enough to afford a bare-bones household budget.

According to the study, of the 84,011 households in Whatcom County in 2016, 61 percent (50,926 households) were above the ALICE threshold. Of the 39 percent that made less than the threshold, 17 percent (14,211 households) were below the federal poverty line, but the remaining 22 percent (18,874 households) made less than it actually costs to live in the area.

The 61 percent above the ALICE threshold is a slight drop from the last study in 2014, when 63 percent of Whatcom County's households were making enough to make ends meet. The county's 17 percent below the federal poverty rate also was the highest in the past four studies, as it stood at 16 percent in 2012 and 2014 after climbing from 14 percent in 2010.

According to the study, the ALICE threshold for Whatcom County for a single adult in 2016 was $1,753 per month or $21,036 per year, while a family of two adults, one infant and one preschooler required $5,540 per month or $66,480 per year to reach the bare-minimum "survival" level.

The average annual household earnings in Whatcom County was $40,164, according to the study.

The county was further divided into sub-county regions, with the eastern region found to have a county-low 53 percent of the households making more than the ALICE threshold. Bellingham was slightly better with 56 percent, followed by the Sumas region at 60 percent, the Ferndale and Blaine regions at 66 percent and Lynden at 69 percent.

Whatcom County ranked in the top third in the state (13th out of 39 counties) for percentage of households earning above the ALICE threshold. Kitsap County led the way with 69 percent of its households above the ALICE threshold, followed by King County's 64 percent. Adams County had a state-worst 45 percent of its households above the threshold.

Statewide, 61 percent of Washington's 2,767,682 households earned above the ALICE threshold, with 11 percent below the poverty line and another 28 percent struggling.