Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thursday, September 3, 2015

State of Working Louisiana 2015; Two strategies for poverty reduction; Bail reform in Ascension Parish and; Treatment, not incarceration, for people with mental illness

State of Working Louisiana 2015

After years of decline and stagnation, the median wage in Louisiana rose 39 cents from 2012 to 2014 to $15.63 an hour, and Louisiana added 54,000 jobs over that time. More Louisianans had jobs than ever before, and wages for women gained ground on their male counterparts.  Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends. Most Louisianans are still getting paid less than they were before the Great Recession. Only workers at the top of the pay scale have seen their wages fully recover. And the pay gap between black and white workers is bigger than it was two years ago, as is the gap between the wealthiest and everyone else.  Details about these and other wage trends are included in State of Working Louisiana 2015, a new report from the Louisiana Budget Project that looks at how Louisiana’s economy is performing for average workers.

 

Pay for most Louisiana workers has not kept pace with increased productivity, which contributes to widening inequality. This decades-long trend in Louisiana and elsewhere should concern anyone who cares about the American Dream. As wages fail to keep up with the rising cost of quality child care and higher education, it is becoming harder for families to invest in their children’s future. The report includes a number of recommendations that would boost Louisiana’s pay and bolster economic opportunity, including raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, and investing more in proven policies like need-based college aid, state assistance for child care, and basic health coverage for workers.

 

Two strategies for poverty reduction

The Brookings Institution’s Richard Reeves offers two strategic approaches to reducing poverty. “Strategy 1” – perhaps the most obvious – is to simply raise the income of the poor. While admittedly a necessary first step, Reeves suggests that “strategy 2” – policies that lessen the impact of poverty on overall quality of life – is the one that needs more work.

 

Much more can and should be done to strengthen Strategy 1, by expanding tax credits to childless adults, making permanent some of the safety net elements such as TANF, reinstating more generous unemployment insurance, and so on. But there are also political and practical limits to Strategy 1 policies…Strategy 2 anti-poverty policies are unlike Strategy 1. The main difference is that they provide services not cash. They do not make poor people any less ‘poor’, in the narrow, income sense. But if successful, they reduce poverty in a broader, multidimensional sense by reducing the correlation between income poverty and other factors…Here are a few examples of the goals of Strategy 2 policies:

 

  • Improving schools in low-income neighborhoods
  • Moving low-income kids to safer neighborhoods with better schools
  • Investing in quality affordable housing
  • Subsidizing pre-K for low-income families
  • Financial aid to help poor kids get through college
  • Strengthening public transport, especially in poor areas
  • Universal or subsidized health insurance

Bail reform in Ascension Parish

Poor people in Ascension Parish who are accused of minor offenses often languish in jail for days or week because they cannot afford bail that wealthier defendants can easily pay within hours. But that could soon change under the terms of a proposed settlement filed on Wednesday in a class-action suit. David Mitchell with the Advocate reports:

 

The proposed settlement would essentially reverse the Ascension Parish Court’s bail schedule for minor crimes that often meant poor defendants wound up stuck in Ascension Parish Prison until they could find a judge to reconsider their case. The settlement filed Wednesday afternoon by attorneys for Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Parish Court Judge Marilyn Lambert and plaintiff Rebecca M. Snow, 33, of Gonzales, means most misdemeanor defendants would be released on their own recognizance without having to secure a bond to pay bail. Snow was arrested Aug. 24 on counts of misdemeanor theft and remaining in a place after being forbidden. Gonzales police caught Snow shoplifting that day at a Wal-Mart where she was previously caught doing the same thing. She had been banned from the store. Snow, a mother of two, had been held in jail in lieu of $579 bail, unable to leave due to her poverty, her suit alleges.

 

Treatment, not incarceration, for people with mental illness

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com provides a stunning and heartbreaking example of what happens when someone suffering from mental illness is incarcerated instead of given proper treatment:

 

Jamycheal Mitchell died last week in a Virginia jail, waiting for a hospital bed to open up in a mental health facility. He was arrested in April for stealing less than $5 worth of junk food (a Snickers bar, a Mountain Dew, and a Zebra Cake) from a 7-Eleven. He was charged with petty larceny and trespassing, and bond was denied. In May, a judge ordered him moved to a state mental health hospital, but no beds opened up. And so Mitchell sat in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail for four months, possibly starving himself to death, until he was found dead in his cell on the morning of Aug. 19. We can certainly talk about systemic failures here: It’s the same predictable laundry list of negligence, incompetence, and bureaucratic blame-shifting that plagues a criminal justice system that warehouses hundreds of thousands of mentally ill patients under often intolerable conditions.

 

Number of the Day

$15.63 – The median wage in Louisiana in 2014, up 39 cents from 2012 (Source: State of Working Louisiana 2015)