by Steve Spires
Louisiana’s economy is improving by some measures. But the economic gains have failed to make a dent in the state’s shameful rate of poverty, according to new American Community Survey (ACS) data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Almost one in five Louisianans–about 896,000 people–lived below the poverty line in 2014. The share of Louisianans living in poverty was the same as in 2013 — 19.8 percent. Louisiana had the third highest poverty rate last year, behind only Mississippi and New Mexico.
An even higher rate of Louisiana’s children lived in poverty — 27.9 percent, statistically unchanged from the year before. That’s 306,000 children, enough to fill Tiger Stadium three times over. Compared to other states, Louisiana is losing ground. The Pelican State moved from having the fourth-highest child poverty rate in 2013 to the third-highest in 2014.
Stark racial disparities exist. While 12.8 percent of white Louisianans lived in poverty last year, the rate was 33.7 percent for black Louisianans. The disparities for children are especially shameful for a modern industrial society and shock the conscience: about one in seven white children (14.7 percent) are poor, compared to nearly half of black children (48.1 percent).
The share of Louisianans living in “deep poverty”–defined as just half the poverty line or less than $6,000 in annual income for an individual–stayed at 9.1 percent last year, unchanged from the year before. That means more than 400,000 Louisianans were living with the equivalent of just $10 to $15 a day or less in cash income in 2014.
The poverty rate was also higher for women last year (21.8 percent) than men (17.8 percent).
The Census defines the poverty threshold as around $12,000 in annual income for an individual and $24,200 for a four-person family. The ACS is the definitive source for state-level poverty and income data.
According to the new data, median household income in 2014 was basically flat for the third year in a row at $44,550. Here also, racial disparities are huge. The median income for a white household last year was $54,290; for a black household, $27,655.
It is disappointing that job growth in Louisiana did nothing to move the needle on poverty in 2014. Even though Louisiana is adding jobs, workers and their families aren’t seeing results in their paycheck. As LBP’s recent State of Working report found, hourly wages for all but the highest-paid workers were still below their pre-recession level, growth was minimal and the racial pay gap was widening. Job growth is not translating into poverty reduction in part because of income inequality and racial disparities–a very troubling situation that demands policymakers’ attention.
Not only are high rates of poverty and massive racial disparities morally troubling, they represent a significant loss of human and economic potential. In particular, child poverty can have lifelong impacts on educational attainment and future earnings, making the cost of poverty very high in the long-run.