Report says nearly half of La. residents struggle to make ends meet
BATON ROUGE - A new report from the United Way says nearly half of the people living in Baton Rouge, along with 40 percent of homes in Louisiana, are hovering in an area where they're not quite in abject poverty but not quite able to keep their heads above water financially.
The first-of-its-kind report for Louisiana calls those who find themselves in this situation ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It targets a group of people the United Way says are able to work and stay above the federal povery line, but still cannot afford basic necessities of housing, food, childcare, health care and transportation.
The United Way started the ALICE project in order to identify the challenges facing people who live on minimum wage, and create solutions to help people in poverty and those who fall in their ALICE guidelines.
The report also attempts to put a face on ALICE households, in an attempt to counter traditional stereotypes with data. The report says 57 percent of ALICE households are white, 42 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic, and that a third of all senior households in the state qualify as ALICE households.
One such person highlighted in the first ALICE report is Ashley Duran, a Lafayette barista and single mother. The 20-something mom says she was working on a career as a restaurant manager, but once her son entered school she switched to being a barista because its hours matched up with when school let out.
"Some people might say you would make enough to hire a babysitter, but babysitters often make more than I do. I make a little less than $8 an hour," she said.
According to the report 19 percent of Louisiana households are at or below the federal poverty level but an additional 21 percent of households fit the ALICE profile. It says the three largest cities in the state - New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport - all have more than 44 percent of households below the ALICE level. Taking a broader view, 85 percent of Louisiana's parishes have more than 30 percent of homes at ALICE income levels.
The report also said that Louisiana's cost of living is also harder on people living near the poverty level than in other states. The United Way calculated that in 2013 it cost $42,444 each year to maintain a household for four people, nearly double the U. S. poverty level of $23,550. Single people have to make $17,340 a year to meet all their needs, well above the $11,490 poverty level.
The United Way also notes that those figures are just for survival budgets, which cover basic necessities such as housing, childcare, and food. The report says people who find themselves in that situation face many challenges to getting out of poverty or near-poverty, since they live paycheck-to-paycheck and don't make enough money to put anything aside for emergencies or savings. A single emergency, such as an emergency room visit, can cause people at the ALICE level to miss work which creates a chain reaction - missed bills, possible disciplinary action or firing as a result of missing work, and thus falling further into poverty.
The ALICE Report identified three different factors which they said affected people's economic outlook - housing affordability, job opportunities, and community resources. The United Way said one of the biggest detriments they found to Louisiana resident's economic status was housing affordability, which fell 33 percent from 2007 to 2010. The report found only three parishes had "good" ratings for all three indexes - Lafourche, LaSalle, and St. Martin.
Ouachita and Tangipahoa parishes both had the lowest rating in all three categories.
To solve these problems, the United Way said lawmakers and stakeholders in Louisiana should use the data to identify and solve the problems facing low-income residents, such as access to affordable housing and better transportation infrastructure. They said the data shows Louisiana will have a larger, older, more diverse population in the coming years, and will be more vulnerable to both natural and economic disasters.
The report said long-term, Louisiana will need "structural economic changes... to make Louisiana more affordable and provide better income opportunities."
Click here for a parish-by-parish breakdown of ALICE factors in Louisiana highlighted by the report.