The number of Louisiana households that earned more than the federal poverty level, but struggled to afford basic living costs, went up from 2014 to 2016, according to a new report.
Released today by the Louisiana Association of United Ways, the report lists how many households statewide were considered Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, or ALICE, using statistics from 2016. Twenty-six percent of Calcasieu Parish households fit the ALICE category, up from 25 percent in the previous report, which used 2014 data.
Calcasieu residents living in poverty also rose from 18 percent in 2014, to 20 percent in 2016.
Denise Durel, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Louisiana, said most ALICE households have people who are working, sometimes multiple jobs, to make ends meet. Often, they work in the service industries.
"When we think about everyone we come into contact day to day, there's probably going to be several ALICE persons," Durel said. "Those are the people who are paid by the hour who don't always have the opportunity for benefits."
To qualify for ALICE status in Calcasieu, a single adult would not earn more than $9.37 an hour, or $18,744 a year. A family of four would not make more than $28.57 an hour, or $57,132 annually.
Those numbers may seem livable at a glance, but Durel said residents in ALICE households live in a painfully tight situation. They have to stretch their income so much, they can't save up for emergencies.
Durel said Calcasieu's rise in ALICE families is consistent with the trend statewide. Louisiana had 29 percent ALICE households in 2016, up from 23 percent in 2014. Poverty levels statewide remained at 19 percent.
Locally, the increase in ALICE households can be attributed to rising housing costs with no increase in hourly wages, Durel said. Under the ALICE survival budget, a single person is allotted only $470 for rent and utilities.
"Where would we find a place at that price," she asked. "If you look at the reality of it and you break it into a budget, a lot of singles really struggle in the beginning."
Singles and senior citizens are Calcasieu's most frequently coded ALICE households. According to the report, 30 percent of Calcasieu's single or cohabiting households are ALICE, while 35 percent of households aged 65 and older are ALICE.
Durel said many local seniors live on a fixed income but still have to work to make ends meet.
"Many are trying to make money any way they can, whether they're a greeter at Walmart or at a coffee shop," she said. "They're continuing to work into their 60s, 70s or 80s just to provide housing and a roof over their head."
Allen Parish continued to have the highest percentage of ALICE households in the five-parish area, at 40 percent, up from 33 percent in 2014. The 17 percent of residents living in poverty was unchanged from the previous report.
Jeff Davis Parish had 29 percent ALICE households in 2016, up from 22 percent in 2014. The poverty level dropped from 22 percent to 21 percent.
Beauregard Parish had 25 percent ALICE households, up from 22 percent. The poverty level rose from 17 percent to 18 percent.
Cameron Parish had 17 percent ALICE households, up from 16 percent. Residents living in poverty went from 9 percent to 10 percent.
The United Way funds the research for the ALICE report to identify residents who need the most help, Durel said.
"Most human service programs are more in line for people who aren't employed, but we're wanting to make sure we're meeting the needs of those who are working," she said.
The agency requires all of its affiliates who receive funding — like the Calcasieu Community Clinic and the tax preparation program — to prove they're accommodating those who are working, but still need assistance.
"We're trying to be very mindful with the programs that we provide to make sure ALICE has a place at the table," she said.