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Five things to know about this year’s U.S. Census data

Posted on September 19, 2013

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).

How Louisiana compares to other states

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.

Louisiana poverty rates higher than U.S.

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.

Poverty rates differ by region

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.

Children helped by laCHIP

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.

More young adults insured

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:

  1. Fully funding K-12 and higher education: Despite growing evidence that education is the key to a strong economy, per-student funding for K-12 education was frozen from 2008 until 2013. This has resulted in $560 less in basic support for each student, larger class sizes, fewer tutoring opportunities and cancelled after school programs. In addition, Louisiana’s colleges are at their lowest levels of funding since the 1950s, while student tuition and fees have jumped by 74 percent since 2009. It is imperative that Louisiana changes course and begins to adequately fund K-12 and higher education in order to build a 21st century economy that creates high-paying jobs.
  2. Increasing the value of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The federal and state EITC rewards and encourages work by increasing income. The credit is especially beneficial for children, as studies have shown that higher family incomes lead to stronger school performance and improved lifetime earnings. Unlike many other tax credits that have never been rigorously evaluated, the benefits of the EITC for Louisiana’s families and children are proven. Doubling the value of the EITC would be an important investment in a stronger economic future for Louisiana.
  3. Expand coverage as part of health care reform: The evidence is clear that coverage results in less financial stress on families, better health outcomes and reduced mortality. Expanding coverage would not only improve access to preventive health care for an estimated 400,000 low-income Louisianans, but boost the state’s economy through an infusion of federal funds and increased productivity that comes from a healthier workforce.

 

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