Louisiana struggles with food insecurity

Posted on August 9, 2018

One in 4 Louisiana families have a hard time putting food on the table throughout the year – the second highest rate of “food hardship” in the nation, according to the latest data from the Food Research and Action Center. Two Louisiana metro areas ranked among the worst in the nation for food hardship in 2016-17.  New Orleans ranked fifth with with a 21.1 percent hardship score, while Baton Rouge ranked eighth. These findings underscore the serious problems Louisiana faces with hunger.

The food hardship rate for households with children rose to a considerably higher level, from 17.5 percent in 2016 to 18.4 percent in 2017. Nationally, the food hardship rate for households with children is 1.3 times higher than for households without children. … Although the nation’s unemployment rate continued to fall in 2017, wages were largely stagnant, and Congress and most states failed to provide needed initiatives to boost both wages and public programs for struggling individuals and families. In addition, the Trump Administration and the U.S. House of Representatives have attacked vital programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school meals, and Medicaid.

Congress is currently debating a farm bill that includes a reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  SNAP helps nearly 1 in 4 Louisiana families afford groceries each month, benefiting more than 400,000 Louisiana children. The House version of the farm bill includes harmful cuts and changes that would take away food assistance from thousands of Louisiana families. The version that passed the Senate would protect SNAP and enhance job training programs for low-income families seeking work. To learn more about the farm bill, sign up for our action alerts here.


Educational and regional gaps in motherhood
There is a great divide in America when it comes to the stage of life a woman chooses to have a baby. As The New York Times’ Quoctrung Bui and Claire Cain Miller report, women with college degrees and those who live in coastal areas tend to delay motherhood, while younger moms are more likely to hail from the Midwest and South. These factors, in turn, influence a child’s economic future.   

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes. People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult. ”There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation’s inequality — and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers’ circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.


EITC and CTC expansion helps families
The recently passed Tax Cuts and Job Acts cut taxes for corporations and wealthy families, but mostly missed the mark in helping low-income families. Elaine Maag of the Urban Institute explains how expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would have helped families get on a better road to prosperity – and how the programs can be modernized to ensure benefits flow to those with the greatest need.    

The CTC could be redesigned so that families with young children and very low-income families are more likely t o get the full credit for children under 17 that many middle-and high-income families already receive, rather than being limited to only $1,400 of the $2,000 credit. Families that have children and earn less than $2,500 typically receive no benefit from the individual income tax provisions in the TCJA. Many with slightly higher incomes will receive an annual benefit of just $75 (relative to prior law). This approach of providing little or no additional benefit to lower-income families runs contrary to a growing body of evidence showing that increasing incomes for families with disadvantaged children can result in a lifetime of benefits and that families with young children tend to face higher poverty rates than families with older children. Policymakers could consider further reforms to the CTC aimed at very low-income families and families with young children.


Investing in college center childcare can improve access
One of the biggest barriers for adults to obtain a post-secondary degree is affordable and accessible childcare. Inside Higher Ed’s Ashley Smith reports on how the University of Houston is tackling this problem with on-campus child care for students. But many other campuses are moving in the opposite direction.

Despite the importance of on-campus childcare facilities to student-parents, there has been a decline in the number of campuses that offer them as a resource, said Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, a senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In 2015, less than half of four-year public colleges provided campus childcare, down from 55 percent in 2005, according to IWPR. And the share of community colleges with a childcare center declined from 53 percent in 2004 to 44 percent in 2015. “It’s expensive to provide and institutions often don’t see providing childcare in the vein of their academic priorities or academic mission, but it’s absolutely in line with their mission and it’s probably the most important support for parenting college students to stay in school and graduate,” Reichlin Cruse said. Student-parents are also more likely to live in poverty, be single mothers or people of color, she said.


Number of the Day
20.01 cents –  Total state tax on a gallon of gas in Louisiana –  eighth lowest in the nation. (Source: The Tax Foundation)


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