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New Census Data Shows Significant Increase in Poverty in Communities Across Louisiana; Children Especially at Risk

Posted on September 20, 2012

Share of Louisianans with health insurance remains steady, median income continues to fall
By Steve Spires

The poverty rate in Louisiana rose last year to 20.4 percent— a 1.7 point increase over 2010 and the third worst in the nation behind New Mexico and Mississippi. The share of Louisianans without health insurance remained essentially unchanged at 17.5 percent.

New state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows nearly 910,000 Louisianans lived below the poverty line (defined as annual income of $11,170 for an individual and $19,090 for a family of three) in 2011. That’s an increase of 80,000 people over 2010, when the poverty rate was 18.7 percent. More than one in five Louisianans now live in poverty, the third highest rate in the country.

The findings from the American Community Survey follows data released last week showing that while the national poverty rate remained essentially unchanged, it had increased significantly in Louisiana.

Perhaps most worrisome, the share of children in poverty increased to 28.8 percent last year from 27.3 percent in 2010. The number of Louisianans living in “deep poverty” (defined as half the poverty line, or $9,545 for a family of three) also is growing. Last year, nearly 419,000 Louisianans lived in deep poverty—9.4 percent of the population—up from 8.1 percent in 2010.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Median income in Louisiana was $41,734 last year, the seventh lowest in the nation, and a drop of nearly $2,100 from 2010. Median household income in the state has now decreased $3,700 since 2008, while income inequality has continued to increase. Adjusted for inflation, median household income is at its lowest in nearly a decade.
  • The share of children without health insurance remained statistically unchanged. While the share of families receiving insurance through their employer has been declining for years, Medicaid coverage has offset many of those losses and protected more children from becoming uninsured.
  • The percentage of working-age adults without health insurance remained high at 25.5 percent, statistically unchanged from 2010. This number would likely have gone up if not for a provision of the health care reform law that allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ plan, which boosted coverage for that age group and offset losses among older adults.

Louisiana’s rate of uninsured adults remains high because the Medicaid program that covers children and people with disabilities has very restrictive guidelines for adults. Proof of this disparity lies in the fact that a one in four working-age adults in Louisiana lacks health insurance, while less than 6 percent of children do. Louisiana has a chance to close this large “coverage gap” through federally-funded Medicaid expansion in 2014. Medicaid expansion would offer health coverage to up to 400,000 Louisiana, including 240,000 people who are working. Unfortunately, Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced his intention to block this important health care reform.

  • Some areas of the state are faring better than others, though almost all experienced increases in poverty between 2010 and 2011. Of the seven largest metropolitan areas, only Lafayette saw a decrease in the poverty rate for both adults and children, while the Alexandria and Monroe areas saw the largest increases.
  • Racial disparities remain an ugly fact of life in Louisiana. While 13.1 percent of white Louisianans lived in poverty last year, more than one-third—34.7 percent—of black Louisianans were poor in 2011. For health insurance, the story is similar: 14.6 percent of whites, but 21.8 percent of blacks, went without coverage last year.

This year’s data makes it clear that Louisiana is on the wrong economic track and underscores the importance of taking a balanced approach to the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis instead of the “cuts-only” approach that has depleted our education and health-care programs. The growing share of Louisianans living in poverty speaks to the need for services and policies that support working families and provide a pathway out of poverty. Fully funding K-12 education, reversing the recent cuts to higher education, increasing the value of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and childcare tax credit, and expanding Medicaid to low-income adults would all be major improvements that would help the state invest in a more prosperous future.

The number of Louisianans living in poverty also highlights the importance of federal policies, including Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and federal tax credits for low-income workers. As the debate over the future of the federal budget continues, Louisiana’s congressional delegation needs to keep in mind how important these policies are for the well-being of the state’s children, families and the elderly.

As the state continues to dig out from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, further budget cuts will only inflict more harm on Louisiana’s families and the economy.

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