Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Rate of uninsured Americans on the decline; Rethinking criminal justice reform; New Orleans home prices spike post-Katrina; and The “ugly reality” of economic development


Rate of uninsured Americans on the decline

The share of Americans without health insurance continued to drop in the first quarter of 2015, reports the New York Times. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 9.2 percent of Americans are uninsured, down from 14.4 percent in 2013–a historically significant drop. The new data provides yet more evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working. Unfortunately, the news isn’t as positive in states like Louisiana that have refused to expand Medicaid:


States that expanded Medicaid have seen a sharper drop in the proportion of people who are uninsured, although residents of those states were also more likely to have coverage before the health law took effect. In states that expanded Medicaid, 10.6 percent of people age 18 to 64 were uninsured in the first quarter of this year, down from 18.4 percent in 2013, the report said. In states that chose not to expand Medicaid, 16.8 percent of such adults were uninsured in the first quarter of this year, down from 22.7 percent in 2013.


Rethinking criminal justice reform

Recently, there has been surprising but consistent bipartisan support for reforming the nation’s criminal justice system and finding ways to reduce prison populations and incarceration rates.  But that is easier said than done, with few easy solutions.  As Erik Eckholm writes for The New York Times’s  Upshot blog:


Congress is bubbling with bipartisan bills that would scale back mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and strengthen rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders. But the president and Congress can have a direct impact only on federal prisons, which hold one in seven of the country’s prisoners. There has been little of the bottom-up number-crunching of state data needed to see what changes in enforcement and sentencing, for what kinds of crimes, it would take to scale back incarceration in a significant way


State prisons hold…about 1.4 million inmates. Only one in six of them are in for drug offenses, and that share is declining. The sentences are usually short, and those caught for simple possession are unlikely to go to prison. (Offenders still bear a heavy personal toll for a criminal conviction, reason enough for major reforms, but low-level drug arrests are not driving the incarceration numbers.) Just over half of all state prisoners were convicted of violent crimes like assaults, gun crimes, robbery, rape and murder, with some people serving lengthy “habitual offender” sentences.Big cuts in incarceration must come at the state level, and they will have to involve rethinking of sentences for violent criminals as well as unarmed drug users and burglars.


New Orleans home prices spike post-Katrina

Home prices in New Orleans have shot up in the past ten years, particularly in historic neighborhoods, making it even harder for families to find affordable housing.  This is part of a national trend seen in cities around the country. But housing cost increases in other parishes has been more moderate or even remained flat.  Katherine Sayre of nola. com reports:


The average price of a house in New Orleans has climbed a stunning 46 percent since Hurricane Katrina with peak demand in the city’s historic neighborhoods — and the escalation shows no sign of slowing, according to a report issued Tuesday (Aug. 11) by the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors.  But in Jefferson Parish, a traditional south shore star of the metro real estate market, the average price of a house increased by a meager 1 percent over the post-Katrina decade, according to the report.  St. Tammany Parish was the runner-up in the post-Katrina escalation, increasing 10 percent over the decade.


Wade Ragas of Real Property Associates, who authored the report, said the numbers reflect a national trend of homebuyers wanting to live in urban core neighborhoods. But in New Orleans, young people ready to buy their first home are discovering a dearth of listings for sale, driving up prices. And sluggish wages for New Orleanians aren’t keeping up.  “The demographic is saying, ‘We want to live near the center city,’ so they’re choosing historic neighborhoods or they’re choosing high-rises near the center of their community, and this is particularly true in the larger, urban centers,” Ragas said. “New Orleans is behaving more like it were a New York or a Chicago … all of these bold, big center cities are experiencing the same phenomenon, and they’re all showing these sorts of rates of growth.”


The “ugly reality” of economic development

Economic “incentive” programs took a haircut in the recent legislative session, an outcome that didn’t please the business lobby. The Advocate’s Lanny Keller offers a response to One Acadiana, which recently put out a policy paper criticizing the move.


What are the ugly realities hidden behind today’s rhetoric of “economic development”? One of them is that Louisiana’s current positive ratings in business climate surveys are based on renting loyalty…When the Legislature faced this spring a catastrophic budget shortfall, lawmakers had a choice. They could agree to further cuts to higher education and health care urged by Gov. Bobby Jindal, or they could raise revenue. The latter was easier politically through modest taking back of tax breaks lavished on business during Jindal’s two terms. Jindal did not invent the practice but he certainly made it worse.


That the budget crisis was resolved, albeit imperfectly, is now a cause of complaint in One Acadiana’s agenda for the next governor and Legislature. “Economic development incentive programs represent less than 5 percent of the state’s total tax exemption budget, yet they shouldered a disproportionate share of the blame in the debate over how to balance the budget,” One Acadiana’s new policy paper says. “Programs were slashed across the board with little consideration for impact on job creation and investment.”…even so, many of these incentives remain among the most generous in the United States.


Number of the Day


2.2 million – Total United States prison population (Source: National Academy of Sciences)