Learning that 25 percent of households in St. Charles Parish are classified as the “working poor” concerned John Dias, who as United Way’s executive director, set out to address it.
Calling it their “million dollar program idea,” Dias said he has tasked his planning committee to develop a concept or program aimed at areas like sustainable income.
“The community has been generous in its support of the United Way of St. Charles,” he said. “I think we need a big, bold statement and there’s a blank to fill. We have the strength right now to really be leaders and say, ‘Hey, community, you’re trusting us with your dollars. We’re done with Bandaids. Let’s fix the cracks in the sidewalk.’”
The United Way actually started addressing it last year when it started a job development program with a case worker or job coach, which Dias said has been successful.
“I just think that we can do a better job helping, especially those folks who are helping themselves,” he said. “We need to get one step higher up the economic rung so that a broken pipe or car repair doesn’t put them homeless.”
Aiding more than 30 people to date in the parish, the program evolved from Dias’ own questions about why they were getting calls from people who were working but still needed help.
The ALICE report, sponsored by United Ways in the U.S. to identify community needs, confirmed his growing belief that the parish had people who were working but still not making ends meet. This led to hiring the job coach, which is aimed at helping them grow into better jobs and pay.
“It was our first year out the gate,” Dias said.
This year’s newly released ALICE report affirmed the parish’s working poor numbers again.
“They’re someone getting up, going to work, paying taxes and doing what they are supposed to do – and still not making ends meet,” he said. “That’s disturbing.”
Dias also was surprised over the report outlining single women as head of the household as being “in trouble statistically.”
Some 73 percent of these households were at or below the poverty level, he said. Of this number, 32 percent are employed, according to the report.
“My reaction is when we saw these figures a couple of years ago we were right to take action,” Dias said. “My reaction is now we are right to take more action and address this. We’re working on the estimated options and hope to have those plans in the next few months.”
He added, “I think charities are so fixed on being reactive they’re just risk adverse to being proactive. Our board is good with being proactive.”
ALICE Report numbers for St. Charles Parish as of 2016
- A single adult home survival budget is $669. Of that total, annual income averages $22,176.
- The single-female household was significantly more likely to struggle economically (53 percent) compared to single-male households (44 percent) of them in the parish.
- In a 2010 to 2016 comparative, parish households in poverty increased from 33 percent to 37 percent.
- Households headed by someone under age 25 topped those most likely in poverty at 55 percent compared to age 25 to 44 years old at 39 percent; age 45 to 64 at 33 percent, and over 65 at 44 percent.