Forty percent of Louisiana households don’t earn enough to make ends meet, and many of them include people who hold jobs and work 40 hours or more a week, including in Acadiana, according to a report released this week.
They’re called the working poor, and the Louisiana Association of United Ways’ 263-page report exhaustively details that category of the population defined by the acronym ALICE — asset limited, income constrained and employed.
Louisiana’s ALICE households have annual incomes above the federal poverty levels — set at $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four — but still don’t make enough money to afford the basics. The study looks parish by parish at how much housing costs locally, along with the cash needed for food, transportation and child care. It also rates job availability and the prospects for a decent but affordable place to live.
For instance, a family of four in Iberia Parish needs to earn $35,000 a year just for a roof over their heads and the other must-haves, according to the report.
“You see that the poverty level alone cannot define the scale of need in the community,” said Sarah Berthelot, head of the statewide United Way organization, a collection of 14 regional United Way nonprofits in Louisiana.
Berthelot said the report is a tool meant for policymakers, not an advocacy tome to push for higher minimum wages or other government measures. And it doesn’t contain answers to the problems it highlighted.
“This report provides no silver bullet or single solution to resolve these conflicts,” she said. Rather, she said, it “confronts the issue” by arranging the data and shining a light on it.
“For so many who are in a position of planning and serving the communities, the ALICE measure can be extremely helpful to understand the realities of struggle in a clearer way than what the U.S. poverty level provide,” Berthelot said.
Similar reports have been or will be released across the country, and, like Louisiana’s, they contain data from 2013. Berthelot said more people in Louisiana could fall into ALICE or poverty levels now that an oil and gas downturn has led to thousands of job losses over the past 12 months.
Sections of the report burrow down to hyper-local levels like Duson in Lafayette Parish, where more than half of the 686 households are below the poverty or ALICE levels.
And it shows that black residents make up a disproportionate percentage of those not making enough money to get by: Duson is a majority-black municipality. On the other end of Lafayette Parish, mostly white and affluent Youngsville has 3,139 households. Of those, just 4 percent live below the poverty line, and 5 percent are within the ALICE parameters.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette research scientist Steven Dick, who was a consultant on the United Way report, said minority populations tend to be left behind when it comes to prosperity.
“There is this fairly large section of the population that is just kind of struggling along,” Dick said.
The report includes projections of job growth by occupation and finds that low-paying jobs like cashier were dominant. There are 70,820 cashiers working in Louisiana, making it the most common occupation in the state. They make about $8.75 an hour, which comes out to $17,500 a year.
“These jobs fall short of meeting the family household survival budget by almost $25,000 per year,” the study says.
It also noted that families in the ALICE bracket had little, if any, cash savings needed to pay for quickly arising problems, such as a broken refrigerator or air conditioner.
Dick, the UL-Lafayette education scientist, said Louisiana residents in the ALICE category sometimes need government help, if only temporary. Any whittling away at those programs becomes problematic for those who depend on them.
“I think the real purpose of this report is to show where there are holes in the safety net for people who have managed to climb out of the worst level of poverty but are still in danger of going back,” he said.