Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Economic recovery not being felt by the middle class; Public defenders are grossly underfunded; Smaller vs. bigger vs. “better” government; Louisiana ranks 41st in Gallup “well being” index

Economic recovery not being felt by the middle class
Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looks at the Census data released Tuesday and sees some positive signs — a notable dip in child poverty, for example. But he notes that the current economic recovery differs from previous eras in that low- and middle-income workers aren’t seeing the income gains they did in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Federal austerity policies are at least partly to blame, Greenstein writes.

The changes in federal spending and tax policies that took effect in 2013 reduced economic growth last year by about 1.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to Goldman Sachs. The Congressional Budget Office projected that these policy changes cost the economy more than 1 million jobs. We would have been wiser to invest more in infrastructure and education and training to put more people back to work in the short term and to strengthen productivity and economic growth in the long term.

Neil Irwin of the New York Times strikes a similar note, and gives a familiar explanation: technological change, the decline of unions and the “cultural shift” that has seen executive pay rise dramatically while wages stagnate.

This simple fact may be the most important thing to understand about today’s economy: Around 1999, growth in the United States economy stopped translating to growth in middle-class incomes. In the last 15 years, median income has been more or less flat while there was far sharper growth in, for example, per capita gross domestic product.

LBP’s take on the Census data focuses on the health-care numbers that show Louisiana’s uninsured rate didn’t budge in 2013, even as other states made significant gains.


Public defenders are grossly underfunded
Louisiana spends $3.5 billion per year on its criminal justice system, which, despite a prison population that declined ever-so-slightly last year, still boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world. And even though the Constitution gives every accused criminal the right to a lawyer, less than 2 percent of that funding goes to public defenders, who represent 80 percent of defendants. John Burkhart of the Louisiana Campaign for Equal Justice, writing in The Advocate, says this imbalance should be of concern to everyone.

If our justice system is so weighted against the defendant, is it any wonder Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world? Is it any wonder Louisiana is a world leader in costly exonerations? Is it any wonder it is difficult to attract business to a state where so many otherwise able-bodied and able-minded individuals are unable to work because of a prior conviction or unfortunate plea deal? Worst of all, if we ask about the real reason behind our justice system, we cannot tell ourselves the status quo has made our communities any safer; in fact, all evidence points to the contrary.


Smaller vs. bigger vs. “better” government
One of the consultants hired by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to help shrink the size of state government shared his experience in The Atlantic, focusing on how the Department of Children and Family Services reacted when faced with a 7 percent budget cut.

This was a particularly steep challenge for DCFS. It had already endured cuts of 12.4 percent in recent years—more severe than the state as a whole. Most of these cuts were absorbed by “back-office” staff, but some came in reductions in front-line caseworkers, who deal with child abuse, troubled youths, and kids stranded in the no-man’s land of foster care. These aren’t problems that go away just because government funding to address them does. In fact, they tend to get worse.

The result was the Coordinated System of Care, which seeks to ensure that no matter where families turn for help they are provided all the services they need.


Louisiana ranks 41st in Gallup “well being” index
The Daily Dime is a little late in discovering the Gallup “well being” index, but was pleased to see that Louisiana jumped two spots in 2013 to 41st among the states. While that’s hardly something to brag about, the yearlong survey of more than 178,000 American adults found that Louisianans were fairly pleased with their work environment and emotional health, but fared poorly in other health categories. When the rankings were broken down by metropolitan areas, it found that Baton Rouge ranked highest for overall well-being, while the residents of Shreveport-Bossier ranked lowest.


Number of the Day
1,114 –
Number of Louisiana adults, per 100,000, who are sentenced to one year or more in federal or state prison. (Source: The Advocate)