New federal data on poverty, income and health coverage released Thursday, Sept. 19 by the U.S. Census Bureau contains a treasure trove of information about how Louisiana families live and work. But here are five key trends that you should know about today’s data:
1. Louisiana’s poverty rates are still among the nation’s highest
Nearly one in five Louisianans — 891,981 people, or 19.9 percent of the population — lived in poverty last year, the third-highest rate in the nation. That includes more than 300,000 children (28 percent; fourth highest in the nation).
Wages in Louisiana continue to lag behind the rest of the nation. Louisiana’s median household income was $42,944 in 2012, compared to a national median of $51,371. Incomes in the PelicanState have also dropped significantly since the Great Recession. The median household in Louisiana eared $45,321 in 2007 (adjusting for inflation).
Racial disparities also remain an ugly fact of life in Louisiana. Black Louisianans were almost three times as likely as whites to live in poverty last year — 35.5 percent versus 12.4 percent — and the average white worker earned almost twice as much as an African-American worker — $52,958 compared to $27,132. But black workers have fared better than their white counterparts since the Great Recession. Inflation-adjusted median incomes for blacks have declined by $887 since 2007, while median incomes for whites dropped by more than $2,200.
2. Louisiana’s poverty rate has leveled off
While Louisiana’s poverty rate rose faster than the national rate between 2009 and 2011, the latest figures show that poverty held steady in Louisiana last year – a trend that’s in line with the rest of the country. In fact, the overall poverty rate, and the rate for children, both declined slightly – though not enough to be considered statistically significant.
3. Regional disparities persist
While the Baton Rouge area saw a slight uptick in poverty among both adults and children from 2011 to 2012, every other area of the state saw at least some year-over-year improvement. That includes economically depressed areas such as Monroe, which saw a 4.6-point decrease in child poverty, and high-performing areas such as Houma, where a robust energy economy has brought poverty to near the national average.
The trend marks a significant change since last year, when the Lafayette region was the only area of Louisiana that saw a decrease in poverty among children and adults.
4. Health care reform can improve coverage and reduce racial disparities
The share of Louisianans without health coverage dropped from 17.5 to 16.9 percent, a statistically significant improvement. But all is not well: Louisiana’s uninsured rate ranks 12th worst among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Fortunately, past experience shows that health care reform can dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Louisianans.
The share of Louisiana’s children without health insurance is at a record low 5.3 percent, down from more than 20 percent in the late 1990s, thanks to the Louisiana Children’s Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP). By comparison, the share of working-age adults between 18 and 64 who are uninsured is 24.8 percent, in large part due to Louisiana’s low Medicaid eligibility for the working poor.
Health reform can also help reduce Louisiana’s stark racial disparities when it comes to coverage. According to today’s Census data, 14.2 percent of white Louisianans are uninsured compared to 21 percent of black Louisianans. But there is no such racial disparity among children.
5. New evidence shows the potential of the Affordable Care Act
Between 2010 (when the law passed) and 2012, the percentage of young adults (age 18-24) without health coverage dropped from 33.5 to 27.9 percent, and the share with private coverage increased from 51 to 55.8 percent. In real terms, this means that there were approximately 26,000 fewer uninsured young adults, while 21,500 more were covered by a private plan.
This is due in part to a provision in the health care reform law that allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ health plan until they turn 26. In a still-struggling economy where graduates are having a difficult time finding a job—much less a job that offers health benefits—this single provision likely kept thousands of young adults in Louisiana from becoming uninsured.
Correcting Louisiana’s poverty and health coverage trends
There are no quick fixes to Louisiana’s poverty and lack of health coverage. But there are several things Louisiana can do to move up the rankings: