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By definition, ALICE families and individuals are those who make more than the federal poverty level but less than the ALICE Threshold, which is what is needed to afford the basic necessities of housing, childcare, food, transportation and healthcare.
New research, funded in part by United Way of Southwest Louisiana, shows that 47% of households in the five-parish area have a difficult time affording basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, healthcare and technology. The updated ALICE Report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) shows that 27% of Southwest Louisiana households are working at low-paying jobs, have little to no savings and are one emergency from falling into poverty while 20% of families already live in poverty.
The story of ALICE begins in Morris County, New Jersey in 2009.
In what was assumed by many to be a very affluent area, the United Way of Northern New Jersey knew the reality. Despite the perception that everyone in Morris County was doing well, there were a large number of households who got up each day and went to work but were still struggling to make ends meet. United Way of Northern New Jersey knew that they had to find a way to better identify these people in an effort to better serve them.
In 2009, the United Way of Northern New Jersey commissioned Dr. Stephanie Hoopes, a researcher from Rutgers University - Newark, to conduct a pilot research study focusing on the circumstances of low-income households in Morris County.
Thus, the United Way ALICE Project was born.
The results of the first ALICE Report placed a spotlight on a large population of hard-working residents who work at low-paying jobs, who have little or no savings and who are just one emergency or crisis from falling into poverty. Furthermore, the report underscored how the fate of an entire community is directly connected to ALICE.
By definition, ALICE families and individuals are those who make more than the federal poverty level but less than the ALICE Threshold, which is what is needed to afford the basic necessities of housing, childcare, food, transportation and health care.
We come into contact with ALICE each and every day. In fact, we probably come in contact with ALICE multiple times each and every day. ALICE brews up the coffee at the local coffee shop, freshly presses dry cleaning, tends the counter at a convenience store and even cares for the elderly and children. These hardworking individuals and families live paycheck-to-paycheck with no extra money to set aside in savings. They are forced to make short term decisions that have detrimental long term consequences.
Do I get a payday loan to buy school supplies and uniforms for my children? Do I pay utilities or rent this month? Do I buy necessary medication or food for my table? If an unexpected expense comes up, what bill can I pay late?
These are the questions ALICE is faced with daily. ALICE plays an absolutely critical role in keeping any economy running, but unfortunately they aren't always sure if they can take care of their most basic needs. What can be considered an inconvenience for some - a flat tire, a bump in the cost of your insurance premium, a winter electric bill - is an issue that can send ALICE spiraling towards poverty or homelessness.
In Southwest Louisiana, the results are mirrored. 47 percent of the households that make up Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis Parishes are living at or below the ALICE Threshold. Eighteen towns and cities across the region, including the largest - Lake Charles, have at least 40% of households struggling to make ends meet.
So, what are we going to do about it? We know that the first step is introducing ALICE to the community. By placing this report at the center of tables in SWLA - coffee tables, dinner tables and even policy tables - we hope to spark the dialogue and encourage the conversation needed to help begin the process of moving families and individuals above the ALICE Threshold.
While there are United Way of Southwest Louisiana programs that currently serve the ALICE population, like VITA, FamilyWize, Shoe Box Project and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, we hope to use the United Way ALICE Report for Louisiana as a guide for future programming and community partnerships. "We know we've unleashed the challenges of ALICE with this report and if we can work with our partners and communities we are hopeful that we can help to move these households above the ALICE Threshold - to take care of those families and help move them forward," said Denise Durel, United Way of Southwest Louisiana President and CEO. "Families should be in a position to handle whatever they face."
In 2015, 11 United Ways from across Louisiana, under the leadership of the Louisiana Association of United Ways, commissioned the United Way ALICE Report for Louisiana. This report is the most comprehensive depiction of financial need in the state to date. Based on present day income levels and expenses, it sheds light on how many Louisiana households are struggling and why. The report provides parish-by-parish and town level data across the state.
The ALICE Threshold in the state of Louisiana is $19,548 annually for an individual and $53,988 for a family of four. Coupled with the poverty level of $11,880 for an individual and $24,300 for a family of four, the number of households in Louisiana living below the ALICE Threshold is 828,255. That's a staggering 48 percent. The report attributes the large percentage of ALICE households in Louisiana to low wage jobs dominating local economy, the gap in basic cost of living and wages and the low availability of jobs near affordable housing.
To access the inaugural United Way ALICE Report for Louisiana (Released January 2016) please click here.
Entergy Corporation serves as the lead state sponsor and the Louisiana representative on the National ALICE Advisory Council. As a friend of ALICE, JPMorgan Chase is also a supporter of this project.
For over 79 years, United Way of Southwest Louisiana has been committed to building strong, successful families and strengthening our community.
815 Ryan Street
Lake Charles, LA 70601
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