In Louisiana, a state with significant problems related to poverty, new rounds of census data on the problems of the poor ought to provoke some debate, rather than denial.
Second worst of the states in the original census report on poverty rates, Louisiana trailed only New Mexico, according to rough calculations by the Census Bureau released recently.
In the past, the Jindal administration has taken issue with Louisiana’s ranking and poverty rate in similar Census Bureau reports that placed the state second-worst. The administration prefers to cite the Census Bureau’s “American Community Survey,” which tends to show Louisiana with less poverty and a better ranking.
Jindal proved right, if by only a hair: Both Mississippi and New Mexico proved to be slightly worse off in the ACS numbers reported last week, in terms of families in poverty.
While the nation’s poverty rate was unchanged in the new ACS survey, Louisiana’s grew worse, up to 20.4 percent in 2011 from 18.7 percent the year before. The Census Bureau defines “deep poverty” as an annual income of $9,545 for a family of three; 9.4 percent of Louisiana families are so afflicted, up from 8.1 percent in 2010.
More than a quarter of Louisiana’s children live in poverty.
The liberal Louisiana Budget Project called the numbers an example of poor state policies, with public education, state universities and health care institutions facing big state budget cuts.
“As the rest of the country is showing signs of economic resurgence after the worst downturn in 80 years, conditions in Louisiana are still deteriorating,” Budget Project Director Jan Moller said. “This clearly shows the need for more investments in education, health care and infrastructure, the known building blocks of broad-based economic growth.”
Any way you slice these statistics, they’re not good news for Louisiana.
Further, the impact of the “Great Recession” that began in 2008 and continues to cost many households during a long and slow recovery will have effects that may be long-lasting.
Alan Berube, of the Brookings Institution, reported in a wide-ranging essay on the recession’s impact across the nation. It has resulted in “stable work even less available to individuals and families already living in poverty,” he reported. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of ‘working poor’ individuals — those whose incomes fell below the poverty line, but who worked for at least 27 weeks out of the year — increased by 1.5 million from 2008 to 2009.”
Unemployment rates last year remained 5 to 6 percentage points higher than their pre-recession levels for workers with a high school diploma or less, versus only 2 percentage points higher for college graduates. More households are dependent on less-than-full-time jobs.
“Much of the growth in unemployment during the Great Recession was thus concentrated among less-skilled, lower-income, disproportionately minority individuals,” Berube said. “It may take some time before the U.S. economy can generate job and wage growth sufficient to connect very low-income families to work, and eventually pull them out of poverty.”
This is a particular concern in the Southern states, not only in Louisiana, because of the heavy reliance for employment on cyclical businesses such as construction and retail. Even in oil and gas extraction, for which there should be a significant increase in Louisiana over the coming decade, jobs are relatively few and are also subject to the boom-and-bust cycle with which Louisiana is all too familiar.
Our leaders may quarrel over this data point or that, but the trend lines remain discouraging.
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