Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Measuring the states, Louisiana falls short; Tackling the “class gap”; “The Forgotten Storm”; and Kingsley House: Leading by example


Measuring the states, Louisiana falls short

The Urban Institute’s “State Economic Monitor” pulls together the most up-to-date data (say that five times fast) on employment, wages, housing costs and tax collections of all 50 states. Louisiana does not stack up well:


  • Employment: In August, Louisiana only had 7,000 more jobs than a year ago–an increase of 0.4 percent. Nationally, the rate of growth was much greater: 2.1 percent. Only seven states added fewer jobs than Louisiana
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings are down slightly (0.2 percent) in Louisiana compared to a year ago. But nationally earnings are up 2.3 percent. And Louisiana is only of only four states that saw earnings shrink
  • Taxes: Revenue growth in Louisiana also lags the nation. The average state brought in 5.4 percent more in revenue in the most recent fiscal year than a year before, allowing them to begin reinvesting in colleges and roads. But Louisiana’s revenues were only up 1.4 percent. Only four states fared worse. Growth in both income and sales tax collections were disappointing, while corporate tax collections fell 20 percent compared to a national increase of 6.4 percent.


Louisiana’s budget problems are mainly the result of anemic revenue growth–made worse by a recent drop in the price oil–and are well-known by policymakers in Baton Rouge. But the data on employment and wages clashes profoundly with the message of “economic renaissance” pushed by many politicians, even if the reality is obvious to Louisianans who are struggling to find work or feeling the hit of stagnant wages in their paycheck. The next governor needs to focus on fixing the budget and raising revenue, but also on supporting workers.


Tackling the “class gap”

Just a few decades ago, racial disparities in educational outcomes were the ugly defining scar of the American education system. Since then, gains in civil rights and school integration have shrunk those gaps significantly, even if there is more work to be done. That is the good news. The bad news is that a new gap–one defined by economic class–has replaced it. As Eduardo Porter writes in the New York Times, there are policies that could shrink that gap too–if only we had the political will:


It can be done. Australia, Canada — even the historically class-ridden Britain — show much more equitable outcomes. The policy prescriptions go beyond improving teachers and curriculums, or investing in bringing struggling students up to speed. They include helping parents, too: teaching them best practices in parenting, raising their pay and helping them with the overlapping demands of work and family.


Porter suggests early childhood education is part of the answer, but it isn’t enough. Policies like a higher minimum wage, paid sick and family leave, and tax credits like the EITC are also needed to strengthen lower-income families if we want to boost educational outcomes and restore economic opportunity.


“The Forgotten Storm”

Thursday marks the 10th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Rita, which devastated southwest Louisiana not even a month after Hurricane Katrina. The storm killed 11 people and destroyed more than 23,600 houses, according to the Associated Press. Cameron Parish, which was hardest hit, has yet to see its population return to pre-storm levels. As the Lafayette Advertiser reports, 10 years later area residents are disappointed at the lack of hurricane protection projects:


Back then, Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, referred to Rita as “the forgotten storm.” Ten years later, he still does. In Washington, D.C., Boustany recognized early on the effects of Rita amnesia. All the talk was about Katrina. “I had to make sure all legislation working through the House and Senate also pertained to the effects of Hurricane Rita,” he said. “The danger was it was going to be the forgotten storm.”A lot of people at first said they wouldn’t rebuild, Sherrill Sagrera of Vermilion Parish said. More came back than he thought would do so.


Ten years later, Sagrera said not much has been done to protect Southwest Louisiana from another Rita. There’s been some restoration work, such as marsh creation and shoreline stabilization, which will help some, but none of the large protection projects that were in the working drafts of the Boustany Study, now called the Southwest Coastal Study, he said. What started with more than 300 projects was reduced to 12-15 projects, none of them hurricane protection, Sagrera said.


Kingsley House: Leading by example

One New Orleans non-profit is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to paying its employees a living wage of $11.08 an hour, after advocating for a similar pay policy for employees of city contractors. Kit Fritchie, the board president of Kingsley House, and CEO Keith Liederman explain why in a letter to the Advocate:


This is vitally important to our city and especially for the economically challenged children, families and seniors we serve at Kingsley House. Passage of the living wage ordinance will help tackle what is inarguably one of the greatest impediments to success for our city and state, ensuring that our hard working citizens are provided a fair and adequate wage to at least be able to meet their basic living needs.


Leaders here are striving to grow good jobs, help the long-term unemployed and reduce racial disparities in employment and incomes…How we choose to respond to the challenge of economic inequality is paramount to the continued recovery of our community. To that end, we are proud that we were able to take immediate action to revise our salary standards to ensure that all of our 200 employees will earn no less than a living wage of $11.08/hour, and we hope all nonprofit organizations and businesses will take this time to reflect on what they can do to lessen the income disparity that plagues our community and commit to a living wage for all.


The Dime gives a well-deserved tip of the hat to our friends at Kingsley House for practicing what they preach and doing right by their employees.


Number of the Day


7,000 – Increase in the number of jobs in Louisiana in August compared to a year ago–a growth rate of 0.4 percent, far short of the national 2.1 percent growth rate (Source: Urban Institute)