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The United Way's Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) data is a valuable tool to look at the cost of living in a community and what it takes to sustain a survival-level budget.

The following data paints a picture of the costs associated with surviving in Dubuque and what that might mean for residents.

2020-21 ALICE Data

Single Adult
One Adult, One Child
Two Adults, Two Children

The United Way’s ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) data tool is a detailed measurement system that looks to identify the expenses that are necessary for an individual or family to live and work in a community. The ALICE Household Survival Budget is meant to show “the minimal estimate of the total cost of household essentials – housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and a smartphone plan, plus taxes and a miscellaneous contingency fund equal to 10% of the budget,” according to the United Way.  Because many common poverty measurements systematically underestimate the cost of basic needs, the ALICE Household Survival Budget is a valuable tool for estimating the cost of living. 

The most recently updated ALICE data for Iowa is from 2018.  Using the United Way’s methodology, we have worked to update the numbers using the most recently available data.  For a brief description of the data used for this update, and a link to a fuller description of the ALICE methodology, please see the About the Data section.

The ALICE Stability Budget


The ALICE Household Stability Budget is different from the Survival Budget, and shows "a more sustainable budget model that estimates the higher costs of maintaining a viable household over time, including a 10% savings category that can be used in an emergency, for additional education, or to buy a home."  The 2018 Survival Budget is below for comparison


More Household Sizes

In order to find the ALICE Household Survival Budget for different household sizes, the numbers below can be added to the Annual Total in the 2018 Household Survival Budget table above.



About the Data

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All 2018 data from the charts comes from the United Way's ALICE online research center.  The Survival Budget and Stability Budget data are taken from the Household Budget tab.

The most recent ALICE data provided by United Way uses 2018 data.  The United Way also provides a methodology document that shows how the Survival Budget and Stability Budget are calculated.  We used this methodology to update the numbers using 2020/2021 data.  Below is a brief description of each of the components of the Survival Budget, and which data sources were used.

Housing: ALICE uses the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Market Rates for an efficiency apartment (single person), one-bedroom apartment (two people), or a two-bedroom apartment (three or more people). This includes utility costs, but not telephone or internet service.

Child Care: The most up-to-date information is available through Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral’s reports on annual rates per county. Pricing is for a family of two (one adult and a 2-year-old) and a family of four (two adults, a 2-year-old and a 4- or 5-year-old). The pricing is for a registered child development home (a DHS licensed center/preschool is generally more expensive).

Food: This budget is based on the Thrifty Level (lowest of four levels) of the USDA Food Plans. The food numbers are then adjusted to the county level using Feeding America’s Cost-of-Food Index, which can be requested at

Health Care: Health Care costs are calculated using the health insurance premiums for different plans, taken from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (single, employee plus one, and family) and out-of-pocket costs as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which include costs for medical services, drugs, and medical supplies (average of two ages, 35-44 and 45-54, and average of two income brackets, $40k to $49k and $50k to $69k).

Transportation: For Dubuque, these costs are calculated for annual car expenses, not for purchase of a vehicle or public transportation. They include:

• Minimum liability insurance for Iowa taken from Zebra’s annual State of Auto Insurance report

• Gas, oil and other vehicle maintenance expenses as calculated by AAA (not loan/lease payments or major repairs). AAA’s calculations are based on the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey’s daily miles travel per person by age

• Depreciation, calculated on a 10-year estimate based on the MSRP of the most popular sedan from 10 years previous (Honda Civic)


Technology: Because of how essential smartphones have become for living in the U.S., the cost of a smartphone plan is included in the survival budget, as taken from the least expensive plan reported by Consumer Reports.

Miscellaneous: Additional miscellaneous costs are estimated at 10% of the total household budget.

Taxes: The tax budget includes federal and state income taxes, as well as payroll taxes and local taxes. This is calculated using standard federal and state deductions and exemptions, and includes the Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Credit. The taxes cost for our 2021 estimate were kept at the same rate as the 2018 survival budget.

Data for customizing the ALICE Survival Household Budget is available at the United Way's ALICE online research center

Continue Exploring

Each expense in the ALICE Household Survival Budget can place a significant burden on people living in or near poverty. Explore some examples of these indicators and read one Dubuque family’s story.

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