Black moms, cash bail and 'criminalized poverty': Talking bail fund work with Women With a Vision_lowres

More than half of New Orleans households live below the poverty line or are struggling to make ends meet.

Statewide, 48 percent (roughly 828,255) of Louisiana households couldn't afford basic needs like housing and child care in 2016, according to the latest ALICE Report for Louisiana from the Louisiana Association of United Ways and Louisiana United Ways, representing a network of United Way groups from across the state.

The annual report measuring ALICE (or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households includes families living above the Federal Poverty Level but earning less than what's sufficient to cover basic living costs in each parish.

Households living below the ALICE threshold make up between 27 percent and 75 percent of every parish in the state. The report points to a 6 percent increase of ALICE households since the groups' previous report in 2014.

+2 
ALICE report (2019) graph 1

A quarter of New Orleans households survive in poverty, and another 29 percent of families struggle to make ends meet — totaling 53 percent of the city's 154,355 households.

That poverty and affordability crisis cuts through all demographics, from single parents to seniors and families with children, while wages haven't been able to meet the costs of living, which have increased as much as 33 percent within the last decade.

More than 58,000 African-American households in New Orleans are struggling; more than 30,000 of those households are a part of the so-called "working poor" measured by ALICE.

A two-parent household with two infant children would need to earn more than $60,000 to maintain a "survival" budget, or the bare minimum to live and work within the modern economy in New Orleans; a single adult would need to earn roughly $22,000 a year, or $11 an hour. The median household income in New Orleans is $38,681 (the state average is $45,146).

Statewide, the costs of living — including food, transportation, housing, health care and taxes — increased 16 percent for a single person and 33 percent for a family of four between 2010 and 2016, compared to 9 percent inflation nationally.

+2 
ALICE report (2019) graph 2

Those costs — including child care, which averaged $996 a month, a $302 increase from 2014 — are outpacing wages. The report notes that while development and investments have increased in the parish, families below the ALICE threshold still represent a majority of 44 of the city's 71 neighborhoods.

Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children in New Orleans, says the report illustrates how quality child care is largely out of reach for parents earning lower wages, while "Louisiana invests less than one-half of one percent of our state general funds on early care and education."

"Such an investment would not only prepare our children for school, it would also support their parents' workforce participation and productivity and provide benefits to Louisiana's employers and the state's economy," Bronfin said.

Obstacles include a "skills" gap in available higher-paying jobs and the skills of the would-be workforce, as well as an overall lack of job security and employment among under-employed workers, people working in the "gig" economy, and traditional jobs where employers are scaling back benefits or gutting staff. Families also are struggling to save, and systemic bias persists against marginalized groups and access to housing, health care and employment.

"We're never going to solve poverty unless we understand the true extent of the problem," said Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project. "A great starting point is the ALICE report, which uses data to show how hard it can be for working families to make ends meet."