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Priced out of survival: COVID-19 pandemic worsens conditions for the working poor

LAPLACE — Data from 2018 shows that 31 percent of St. John the Baptist Parish households qualified as ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed.

A survey conducted in May 2020 shows the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an upsurge of financial hardship among an already vulnerable population, according to Artis Williams, executive director of St. John United Way.

“ALICE families in St. John the Baptist Parish have increased by more than six percent since the last ALICE Report. COVID-19 has made this worse. More than ever, St. John United Way needs to continue to help equip ALICE families with the resources and tools they need to succeed,” Williams said.

Everyone knows an “ALICE,” according to the Louisiana Association of United Ways. These are the families who earn too much money to qualify as poor but are still unable to cover the basic necessities of life, including childcare, food, transportation, health care and technology expenses.

The ALICE threshold for a single adult is $24,252 ($12.13 an hour) and $27,000 ($13.50 an hour) for a single senior. For a family of two adults, an infant and a preschooler, the ALICE threshold is $69, 732 ($34.87 an hour).

By comparison, the poverty threshold is $12,140 for a single adult household and $25,100 for a family of four.

Without a safety net of savings, these families are only one emergency away from financial ruin.

According to the 2020 ALICE report, released Aug. 6, more than half of Louisiana’s population falls under the category of ALICE or poverty. Between May 11 and May 21, 2020, more than 2,000 Louisiana residents responded to a survey about how their households have been impacted by COVID-19.

The survey found that 77 percent of respondents with household income below the ALICE threshold had one month or less of savings, while 65 percent of households above the ALICE threshold had two months or more of savings.

More than half of respondents below the ALICE threshold had someone in their household lose their job or have their hours reduced during the pandemic, as compared to less than 1/3 of households above the ALICE threshold.

Childcare was vital for nearly 1/3 of ALICE respondents to maintain jobs. Loss of childcare access led 28 percent of ALICE respondents to lose their jobs and 15 percent to reduce work hours.

Households above and below the ALICE threshold cited that exposure to COVID-19 was the biggest concern during this time. However, the ALICE respondents were significantly more likely to worry about paying the rent/ mortgage and accessing food and supplies. The ALICE respondents were more concerned about mental health issues and less concerned about the overall economy and social gatherings.

As of May 2020, 40 percent of respondents below the ALICE threshold had applied for unemployment during the pandemic. In addition, 30 percent applied for SNAP/food stamps, 26 percent used a food pantry or food bank, 24 percent borrowed money from family or friends, and 16 percent increased balance on a credit card.

The number of ALICE households have increased significantly in the last decade as poverty levels remained largely flat, according to a recent report from the Louisiana Association of United Ways and United for ALICE.

Sarah Berthelot, Louisiana Association of United Ways president and CEO, is hopeful this data will help the state remove obstacles to financial stability and fill gaps in community resources with data-driven solutions to bolster the state’s economy.

“This ALICE research provides the backstory for why the COVID-19 crisis is having such a devastating economic impact on families in Louisiana,” Berthelot said.  “Results from the Louisiana United Way COVID-19 Survey conducted this past May painted a vivid picture of the deep financial challenges of families living below the ALICE Threshold, with 20 percent concerned about making rent or the mortgage payments as Louisiana entered into the third month of the pandemic crisis.”

Williams said St. John United Way has seen an increase in applications for ALICE grants since the pandemic began.

Data in the 2020 ALICE report shows that the West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish is particularly vulnerable. According to 2018 data, 68 percent of Edgard households, 77 percent of Pleasure Bend households and 79 percent of Wallace households are ALICE or living in poverty.

“The data is from 2018. We know that ALICE is worse off now than they were in 2018 as a result of the pandemic. In terms of the things we do at St. John United Way, the community needs us now more than ever,” Williams said.

“We know there are more than 50 percent of families in the parish right now that are suffering as a result of ALICE. We need people to contribute to what we’re doing, and we’ll continue to support ALICE with $500 grants and continue to do food distributions within the parish.”

Results from the Louisiana United Way COVID19 Survey are available at www.launitedway.org/ALICE.