Report on Louisiana livable wages released

(Photo by: rawpixel.com | nappy.co)
(Photo by: rawpixel.com | nappy.co)

By Fritz Esker

Having a full-time job does not guarantee economic security, according to the updated ALICE Report for Louisiana published by the United Way.

ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The report was a collaboration between The Louisiana Association of United Ways and 11 Louisiana United Ways.

“The ALICE data shows that the economic benefits of low unemployment, increased productivity, and a booming stock market are not reaching all residents,” said ALICE report author Stephanie Hoopes, Ph.D.

The report states that low-paying service economy jobs have increased but other job opportunities have decreased. Most jobs in each state now pay less than $20 an hour, but in Louisiana 66 percent of jobs pay less than $20 an hour, as of 2016. The majority of the jobs in that percentage pay less than $15 an hour (equivalent to $30,000 a year, full-time). Twenty-nine percent of jobs in Louisiana pay between $20 and $40 an hour and only four percent pay $40-60 an hour.

“The reality is wages haven’t grown as fast as the costs of basic needs (like rent, childcare, etc.),” said Michael Williamson, president and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Louisiana.

When accounting for age, the youngest households in Louisiana (those headed by people under 25) were the most likely to be in poverty. However, the households most likely to fall into the ALICE category were both the youngest and the oldest (those headed by people 65 and older).

In the 2016 ALICE report, the United Way highlighted the story of Ashley Durand, a young single mother working in a coffee shop. Durand released a prepared statement in a press conference for this year’s report. She has received help from the Earned Income Tax Credit and is now pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing. But she said it is still important for ALICE families to tell their stories, even though many Americans are taught to always “pull yourself up by your boot straps.”

“So many ALICE(s) are silent because they feel like they should try harder and not complain,” Durand wrote. “If others’ experiences are like my own, I can say that we are trying our best, but sometimes we need a break to change our circumstances.”

Williamson echoed Durand’s sentiment, stating that many people at the ALICE threshold are full-time workers average Americans see every day: grocery store cashiers, nursing home caregivers, and fast food workers.

“These are individuals that are working…They are doing all the right things, but they just aren’t earning the wages that would allow them to meet the needs of their families,” Williamson said.

In Orleans Parish, 53 percent of the city’s 154,355 households are at or below the ALICE threshold (29% were at the threshold and 24% were in poverty). That percentage has increased since 2010, when 46 percent of the city’s households were at or below the ALICE threshold.

Families with children are struggling to make ends meet in Orleans Parish. Eighteen percent of married families with children are at or below the ALICE threshold. Seventy-nine percent of families headed by a single mother and 60 percent of households headed by a single father are at or below the ALICE threshold.

Race affects a person’s likelihood of being at or below the ALICE threshold. In Orleans Parish, 58,558 African Americans (68.7% of the city’s African-American population) is at the ALICE threshold or in poverty. Meanwhile, 16,547 white residents are at or below the ALICE threshold (29.7%).

Stats from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development included household survival budgets for Orleans Parish. These numbers, also from 2016, indicate what it would take for someone to simply survive in New Orleans, not including any savings. A single adult would need $22,176 a year and an hourly wage of $11.09 to get by at a minimal level. A family of four would need $60,732 a year.

Williamson said the answer to these problems is not an either/or one. He said wages need to rise to reflect the increased costs of living, but there also needs to be more job training programs like those the United Way offers. Williamson said if workers are given more marketable skills, it can make employers want to pay them more.

The full Louisiana ALICE data can be found online at www.launitedway.org/ALICE.

This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly

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