Forty percent of households in Louisiana are in poverty or fall into a class of the working poor who barely scrape by, struggling to afford day-to-day necessities, according to a new report from the Louisiana Association of United Ways.
The report is the first of its kind in Louisiana. It highlights the difficulty of stretching an estimated $42,444 for a family of four or $17,304 for a single person over one year to buy basics including housing, food, health care, child care and transportation.
These working families who are the focus of the report do not have savings, they do not have money for anything more than necessities, and they are one broken bone or car wreck away from desperation. This group of people spans generations and includes diverse ethnic backgrounds. The United Way dubs them as falling into a category it calls ALICE — asset limited, income constrained and employed.
“At some point in our lives, we all might have been part of ALICE, whether it’s struggling with student loans or being a single mom or maybe you retired earlier than you anticipated,” said Katie Pritchett, the vice president of community impact at Capital Area United Way.
In the capital area’s 10 parishes, 34 percent of households are classified as either in poverty or part of the working-poor group that makes up ALICE.
St. Helena is the worst off in the capital region, with 51 percent either below federal poverty guidelines or still struggling to make ends meet.
The best off in the capital area and in the state is Ascension Parish, where 22 percent of households are either in poverty or wrestling to pay bills for basic necessities.
East Baton Rouge Parish also is doing better than many of its neighbors based on the number of people who are poor. Thirty-five percent of households in the parish fall under poverty guidelines or ALICE.
Within the parish, the highest incidence of people struggling to pay bills live within the Baton Rouge city limits, Baker and the Gardere neighborhood in the south part of the parish. People living in the Shenandoah, Westminster and Oak Hills Place neighborhoods were the least likely to struggle in East Baton Rouge.
“We all have family and friends, neighbors, people who we come in contact with every day who have those challenges,” said Sarah Berthelot, the president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of United Ways. “So if you’re in tune with your community, you can sense the tough choices people face every day.”
ALICE households in the state are 57 percent white, 42 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic. A third of senior households in the state qualify as ALICE.
Capital Area United Way workers said it’s helpful to have clearer breakdowns of the populations they are trying to help in the region. They said they will use the data to come up with plans to better serve the community.
“It’s an interesting dynamic that Ascension has one of the lowest numbers of people in ALICE, but then people in St. Helena or Iberville has a large number,” Pritchett said.
One breakdown of how well an area is doing counts three measures of success: availability of affordable housing, availability of jobs and availability of community resources.
East Baton Rouge, for example, is considered to have poor availability of affordable housing, fair job opportunities and good community resources.
In those categories, Livingston is the worst off in the capital region. It ranked poor for housing affordability, fair in job opportunities and fair in community resources, according to the report.
Several communities surrounding East Baton Rouge are doing better. The six considered to have fair housing affordability, good job opportunities and good community resources are Ascension, East Feliciana, Iberville, St. James, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.
Berthelot said she hopes state lawmakers will use the report as a tool in the upcoming legislative session, despite Louisiana’s budget woes. The report outlines increasing wages and increasing job opportunities as two possible solutions to reducing the number of people in the state who cannot afford anything more than the basics to survive.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has pledged to ask lawmakers to increase the minimum wage.
Louisiana is one of the first states to study and break down their population of people who are classified as ALICE. About 10 other states have released ALICE reports as well.
“Hopefully, over time, we’re changing the numbers so that poverty numbers are getting smaller, but maybe ALICE numbers are getting bigger because people are moving out of poverty and into ALICE,” Pritchett said.