Poverty rises in Louisiana

Louisiana experienced a significant increase from 2009 to 2010 in the number of residents living in poverty, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state’s percentage of the population living in poverty grew from 17.3 percent in 2009 to 18.7 percent in 2010, according to the data made public Thursday.

Poverty for Louisiana’s children — those under 18 — increased significantly from 24.2 percent in 2009 to 27.3 percent in 2010, according to the data.

Louisiana had the seventh-highest overall poverty rate in 2010 and the sixth-highest rate of child poverty.

In 2010, 75,000 more Louisiana residents lived in poverty than in 2009.

Poverty in 2010 is defined as a family of four with an annual income of $22,050.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret both attributed the jump to the deepwater oil drilling moratorium installed by the federal government following the April 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The change from 2009 to 2010 in this data is largely a result of President Obama’s shutdown of offshore drilling, which even a federal judge ruled was ‘arbitrary and capricious.’ Just as we told the White House and argued in federal court, bad federal policy that stops offshore drilling has a direct, negative impact on our economy,” Jindal said in a written statement in response to the data.

Moret said that when the moratorium went into effect, there was a large impact on thousands of oil drilling-related jobs, leading to layoffs, lost overtime and shorter work schedules.

LSU demographer and sociology professor Troy Blanchard looked at migration data by poverty status in the new census data and found that between 2009 and 2010, Louisiana gained 3,174 people living in poverty before they moved to the state.

Louisiana gained 4,570 people living above the poverty level from 2009 to 2010, Blanchard said.

That means 40.98 percent of the people who moved to Louisiana between 2009 and 2010 already were living in poverty, Blanchard said.

Despite the poverty rate increase from 2009 to 2010, Jindal defended his administration, saying he has created a pro-economic development atmosphere in the state that has Louisiana doing better than the rest of the nation and the rest of the South.

“It is important to point out that Louisiana’s poverty rate declined after we took office and it didn’t increase until the (drilling) moratorium. Also, Louisiana’s per-capita income ranking improved to its highest

ranking in at least 80 years in 2010, and our state’s per-capita

income was roughly $1,200 higher in 2010 than before we took office,” Jindal said in the written statement.

“These figures show a much smaller increase in poverty in our state compared to the South and the U.S. overall since the beginning of the national recession,” Jindal said in the statement.

“Louisiana’s economy has significantly outperformed the South and U.S. since the national recession began and our unemployment rate has been lower than the South and the U.S. every month during that time.”

According to the most recent census data, there was a significant drop in employment for Louisiana residents from 2009 to 2010.

In 2010, there were 26,610 less people employed than in 2009.

The percentage of the population 16 and older that was employed dropped from 57.0 percent in 2009 to 55.4 percent in 2010.

Shreveport political analyst Elliott Stonecipher said the 2010 poverty increase seems at odds with Jindal’s continued message stressing Louisiana’s economic prosperity.

“The picture the Jindal administration paints has as its main objective the promotion of his political career, not an open and honest discussion of all the facts available,” Stonecipher said. “When those at or below the poverty level are increasing, his case is very difficult to accept as fact.”

Stonecipher said the cause of Louisiana’s poverty rate spike in 2010 may be a result of the national recession and low paying jobs in Louisiana.

“We can only guess at the root cause, but it makes the most sense to attach this result to the recession, and to the number of lower-paying jobs we have,” Stonecipher said. “In other words, we cannot reconcile the data — and most likely causes — with Jindal’s broad and continuing claims that everything is coming up roses.”

Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations President and CEO Ann Williamson said the poverty data does not surprise her because the more than 600 groups that are part of LANO see the effects of poverty on a daily basis.

“Household income has declined and nonprofits in the state are providing a safety net,” Williamson said.

Michael J. Acaldo, chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said recently that he has seen the rise in poverty first hand.

“This year has been a record year in our dining room. In the 29 years since it’s been open, this year has been the largest so far,” Acaldo said.

Acaldo said shelters have been at full capacity as well.

“All our numbers are up. I think the issue is this: Before the recession hit, Louisiana ranked high in poverty and when the recession finally hit here, it hit the poor and those living paycheck-to-paycheck the hardest,” Acaldo said.