RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - ALICE passes you on the road, they wave to you in the grocery, and lives right across the street.
"Their families are friends of my children's and friends of ours," said United Way of Central Louisiana Chairman Sandra McQuain. "We go to church with ALICE. ALICE is someone that you know."
But who is ALICE?
"The American dream is if i work hard, I will get where I need to go," said United Way of Central Louisiana CEO David Britt. "That is not happening for ALICE families."
The United Way identifies ALICE as the working poor, barely making more than the federal poverty level.
"The ALICE threshold is the level at which you have to have that much money in order to get by," Britt said. "That is no frills, not going out to eat, and if your car battery dies, you are in a pickle."
The United Way started tracking ALICE in 2010, but newly released 2016 data shows ALICE households on the rise.
Almost half of Louisiana's population is in need. Out of close to two million people, 19 percent live in poverty and 29 percent are considered ALICE.
These statistics hit rural, Central Louisiana hard.
In Natchitoches, 49 percent of the population falls under the poverty line or ALICE. In Grant it's 52 percent, Vernon 51 percent, Avoyelles 55 percent and Rapides 47 percent.
"It constitutes a huge issue for us, over half of our population is struggling financially," Britt said.
After joining the united way McQuain noticed the need in her own company.
"It began to help me really recognize and define some of the struggles I would see with our folks," McQuain said. "Why having a flat tire on the way to work wasn't just an inconvenience, it was a struggle for some of our folks."
McQuain and Britt said ALICE numbers have climbed right along with the cost of living.
For example, back in 2014 a household with two adults, a preschooler, and an infant had to make a combined yearly salary of about $44,000 to survive. New data shows that the same household needs to now make at least $10,000 more a year, around $26 an hour.
"It's not that they are not managing their money, it's that they don't have enough money to manage," Britt said.
It's hard for ALICE families to meet that hourly wage. According to the study 66 percent of all Louisiana jobs are low wage, and pay less than $20 an hour.
"The big thing is, people have to be more educated to earn more money," said Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance CEO Jim Clinton said. "They have to have skills to earn more money."
Clinton said that's something Central Louisiana is lacking.
"52,000 people who are in the working age cohort who don't have the equivalent of a high school degree," Clinton said. "So that is the equivalent of the whole city of Alexandria, if you can imagine."
Clinton said it makes recruiting companies to come to Central Louisiana a challenge.
"If it is a national company, and they have a long standing policy that if you don't have a high school degree you can't even apply, then we are simply eliminated," Clinton said.
CLEDA's 'Project Rewrite' has been working on this issue, trying to get ALICE the skills and degrees they need through community college.
"It's about empowering people to rewrite their life script and make it better," Clinton said.
The United Way hopes to partner with CLEDA and other companies to turn ALICE's life around.
"There's a lot of people in our community listening to this broadcast who are really struggling financially," Britt said. "I think a strong community can get together and make a difference in people's lives."
Because, the numbers can't be ignored any longer.
"It's just not acceptable that half of our population is struggling to make ends meet, we can do better by our neighbors," McQuain said.
For a closer look at the United Way's 2016 ALICE study and a breakdown for each parish, visit the attached link.