Louisiana got a bit of an eye-opener this week concerning the number of hard-working residents who work at low-paying jobs, have little or no savings and are an emergency away from falling into poverty.
The Louisiana Association of United Ways announced Tuesday that households that earned more than the federal poverty level, but struggled to afford basic living costs, went up from 2014 to 2016.
The report lists how many households statewide were considered Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, or ALICE, using statistics from 2016.
The original ALICE report update for Louisiana was released in January 2016, with an additional update released in 2017. The report released this week advances that information by two years, updating data sources from 2014 to 2016. That's the latest information available.
Out of the 18 states with ALICE reports, Louisiana ranks third with the highest number of people at or below the ALICE threshold.
The new report shows that in Louisiana, a total of 828,255 households — 48 percent — could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology in 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.
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. Denise Durel, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Louisiana, said residents in ALICE households live in a painfully tight situation. They have to stretch their income so much, they can't save for emergencies.
The increase in ALICE households in Southwest Louisiana 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.
Even though the report is negative, it's giving a voice to those living between the poverty line and the ALICE threshold. Without the ability to get ahead, these families are vulnerable. It's time to start a meaningful conversation about how we can help.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Crystal Stevenson, John Guidroz, retired editor Jim Beam and retired staff writer Mike Jones.