May 25, 2023
New ALICE Report shows pandemic aids temporarily blunted the financial crisis, yet warning signs are on the horizon
NEW ORLEANS – The ranks of Southeast Louisiana households unable to afford the basics grew by more nearly 10,000 during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a total of 262,898 households, or half, struggling to afford the basics by 2021, according to a new report from United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA), the Louisiana Association of United Ways (LAUW) and their research partner United For ALICE.
That calculation includes the 101,466 households in poverty as well as another staggering 161,432 families defined as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy.
ALICE families have been overlooked and undercounted by traditional poverty measures. ALICE is the nation’s child care workers, home health aides and cashiers heralded during the pandemic – those working low-wage jobs, with little or no savings and one emergency from poverty.
ALICE in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship in Louisiana shows that the total number of financially insecure households in Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes rose by 4% between 2019 and 2021.
Overall, Louisiana ranked 2nd behind Mississippi in financial hardship among all 50 states, with one of the nation’s highest percentages of households struggling to make ends meet in 2021.
While job disruptions and inflation delivered significant financial pain, a combination of pandemic supports and rising wages did help to blunt what could have been a deeper financial crisis, the report finds. However, as some benefits are peeled back, and inflation persists, signs of greater financial stress are on the horizon.
“The ALICE Report continues to be one of the best tools to inform our investments and programming. The latest release shows that while the pandemic relief measures helped prevent many households’ financial collapse, the relief was only temporary,” said UWSELA President and CEO. “The alarming breakdown of pandemic experiences by race, gender and disability status highlights the urgency of addressing the systemic inequities brought to light in 2021 and accelerates our efforts to turn ALICE data into action to prevent a surge in financial instability across Southeast Louisiana.”
Since the most recent data collection in 2019, ALICE has faced a perfect storm created by the COVID-19 pandemic and six federally declared natural disasters, from which no parish in Louisiana was spared.
As temporary benefits continue to expire, ALICE faces difficulty deciding whether to spend their money on health care or food. ALICE struggles to find affordable childcare. Elderly workers who were forced to retire earlier than expected are becoming ALICE households. Other ALICE families migrated intra-state, evaporating any financial savings for emergencies.
“The latest ALICE findings are timely as we begin to look beyond the pandemic and disaster eras that all of us Louisianans endured and work to address the most urgent problems facing the people of our communities” stated Sarah Berthelot, President/CEO of LAUW. “The economic scars of recent years are evident in the increase of Louisiana working families who are unable to make basic ends meet, in the reduction of emergency savings and retirement assets held by ALICE families and in rising inflation. Understanding these persistent challenges is a crucial component of our process toward recovery.”
According to the latest report, an ALICE Household Survival Budget for a working family of four in 2021 was $66,288, well above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) of $26,500. Even with tax credits, ALICE would need to earn about $33 an hour to keep up with the household’s expenses, yet 75% of the state’s most common jobs earn less than $20 an hour.
For example, a cashier earned in 2021 an average hourly wage of $9.83, short of the $13.38 hourly wage needed to meet the ALICE Household Survival Budget for one worker employed full-time, much less for a family with children, which pays an average $1,421 monthly for child care – more than for rent, food or any other survival expense.
Key Southeast Louisiana Takeaways from the ALICE Report include:
- While the number of SELA households living below the ALICE Threshold increased slightly, half of all households – a staggering 262,898 – did not earn enough to afford the basics in 2021.
- Racial disparities persist in the rates of financial hardship; 67% of Black and 51% of Hispanic Southeast Louisiana Louisiana households were below the ALICE Threshold in 2021, compared to 40% of white households.
- Between 2019 and 2021, the average annual cost of basic expenses for ALICE families increased by 11% for both single adults and families of four, with child care, food and housing representing the largest expenses in a typical ALICE family’s survival budget.
- Of the 20 most common jobs in Louisiana in 2021, 75% paid less than $20 per hour, which wasn’t enough for many workers to keep pace with the rising costs of essentials.
- Only 29% of households below the ALICE Threshold had emergency savings equal to three months of expenses, a reduction from the pre-pandemic levels of 37%.
- ALICE is more common in rural Louisiana; 59% of rural Louisiana households and 49% of urban households live below the ALICE threshold.
- The warning signs that the economic situation for households below the ALICE Threshold has worsened since 2021 include sustained high levels of food insufficiency, continued difficulty paying bills, reduced savings, medical debt, and feelings of anxiety and depression.
“Entergy has been proud to partner on the ALICE Report with the Louisiana Association of United Ways since the report’s inception in 2016,” said Patty Riddlebarger, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Entergy Corporation. “The report has provided a voice for thousands of struggling households while also serving as an invaluable tool for policymakers and community leaders who are shaping the programs and initiatives that are making a real difference in the lives of ALICE families in our communities. In 2022, the Louisiana Association of United Ways and United Way partners across our state were instrumental in helping Entergy provide more than $4.4 million in utility assistance and VITA support for working families in Louisiana. Entergy is committed to helping ALICE families achieve economic stability. Our support for the ALICE report is an invaluable resource in this work.”
To read the report and access online, interactive dashboards that provide data on financial hardship at the state, county and local level, visit UnitedWaySELA.org/ALICE.
About United Way of Southeast Louisiana
For more nearly 100 years, United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA) has been a leader and trusted partner in improving lives and making a lasting difference. We fight to eradicate poverty by preparing people for quality jobs, growing incomes, and affording better health and education opportunities throughout Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington parishes. We have a bold vision of equitable communities where all individuals are healthy, educated, and financially stable – and we have a plan. United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Blueprint for Prosperity guides all strategic investments in programs, initiatives, collaborations, volunteerism, and advocacy aimed at tackling poverty. For more information, please visit UnitedWaySELA.org. Find us on social: @UnitedWaySELA.
About the Louisiana Association of United Ways
The Louisiana Association of United Ways is an association of eight regional United Ways serving 53 parishes throughout Louisiana. Our mission is to integrate action and resources for the common good. We work across our communities to tackle challenges that affect individuals, families and whole communities — challenges that are ultimately bigger than any of us and impact our entire state. Our association supports statewide coordination and development of the Louisiana 211 Statewide Network. We are part of a global network of more than 1,800 United Ways, servicing communities in 41 countries.
About United For ALICE
United For ALICE is a driver of innovation, shining a light on the challenges ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households face and finding collaborative solutions. Through a standardized methodology that assesses the cost of living in every county, this project provides a comprehensive measure of financial hardship across the U.S. Equipped with this data, ALICE partners convene, advocate, and innovate in their local communities to highlight the issues faced by ALICE households and to generate solutions that promote financial stability. The grassroots movement represents United Ways, corporations, nonprofits and foundations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin; we are United For ALICE. For more information, visit: UnitedForALICE.org.