Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Corporations want their subsidies back; Number of homeless students on the rise; The high costs of incarceration and; The South isn’t as poor as it used to be

Corporations want their subsidies back

A coalition of chambers of commerce from around the state – calling themselves CASE (Coalition for a Stronger Economy) and led by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry – wants state policymakers to restore some of the generous business tax breaks that were rolled back last spring as part of the budget deal. The Advocate’s Lanny Keller is not impressed.


In case it’s not clear to anyone without a functioning calculator, that means returning to old-fashioned check-writing to absentee owners of industrial plants. As a diversification strategy, that goes back to the 1930s when southern states ran ads denouncing unions and urging Yankee businesses to invest below the Mason-Dixon Line. As a “strategic plan,” that’s a bit dated. But if you don’t want to go back that far, think of the past seven years of busted budgets based on cutting taxes and taking the ax to higher education and health care in Louisiana. Even Gov. Bobby Jindal, in this year’s address to the Legislature, achieved a Saul of Tarsus moment; he said it was time to dial back “corporate welfare.”


The high costs of incarceration

A new survey by community and civil rights organizations finds that families of the incarcerated struggle to meet their basic needs, with half lacking adequate housing and sufficient food. More than one-third of families reported going into debt because of costs associated with an incarcerated family member. The picture doesn’t get any rosier after an inmate is released. Households with convicted felons are not eligible for federally subsidized housing, and most former inmates have difficulty finding quality jobs. The New York Times reports:


In all, researchers interviewed more than 1,000 former inmates and family members in 14 states and found that court fees and fines, phone and visitation expenses, and commissary costs frequently sink families deep into poverty. Even public defenders are not always free. Most states permit courts to charge defendants who use public defenders — with costs sometimes rising to thousands of dollars, the report said. Other states charge defendants extra fees for jury trials. The study said that among those surveyed, the average debt for court-related fines and fees alone was $13,607 — more than the $11,770 annual income poverty line for individuals. The vast majority of prison and jail inmates live at or below the poverty line. Women — the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and girlfriends of the incarcerated — nearly always become responsible for the legal and prison costs, the report found.


Number of homeless students on the rise

A record 1.36 million school-aged children were homeless in the 2013-14  school year, meaning they were forced to live temporarily with other families, in homeless shelters, on the streets, or in hotels and motels. As Ehren Dohler of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, this  highlights the need to restore housing choice vouchers that were cut as part of the federal government’s  sequestration deal:


Homelessness has large negative effects on children.  Studies link homelessness to mental health and physical health problems, as well as poor school performance…Vouchers are extremely effective at helping families avoid homelessness.  Families in homeless shelters that receive vouchers are 56 percent less likely to become homeless again over the next 20 months than families receiving no assistance, a recent major study found.  Families receiving vouchers also were 55 percent less likely to experience domestic violence, and their children were 42 percent less likely to be placed in foster care or live temporarily with other family members. Yet the number of vouchers has shrunk in recent years even as more families need assistance.  Some 85,000 fewer families were using vouchers in December 2014 than two years earlier due to sequestration.  Funding that Congress provided in 2014 and 2015 has allowed state and local housing agencies to restore some of the lost vouchers, and the President’s 2016 budget would restore the rest.  It includes funding for 67,000 additional vouchers, 30,000 of which would be targeted to homeless families and other vulnerable groups.  Congress should fund these vouchers as part of a final spending bill for 2016.  


Here in Louisiana, about 20,400 school-aged children were homeless last year, according to the Department of Education.


The South isn’t as poor as it used to be
Amid all the bad news about poverty and inequality, it’s sometimes easy to forget that real progress has been made in recent decades. That’s especially true in the South, as the Pew Research Center reminds us.  While the South remains the poorest region of the country, it also has seen the largest drop in poverty rates since 1960 – a time that also has seen poverty increasingly concentrated in urban areas.   The Atlantic’s CityLab has more:


In the last 50 years or so, the poverty rate in the South decreased from 36 percent to 16 percent. The next highest regional reduction took place in the Midwest, at just 3.6 percent… The decline in America’s overall poverty rate from 22 percent to 15 percent between 1960 and 2010 partly explains these regional trends. (By 2013 it had fallen further, to 14.5 percent.) Some experts attribute this general drop to President Lyndon Johnson’s post-1964 War on Poverty, though others disagree about the success of these policies. The rural-to-urban movement of poor during this period is another likely reason for this regional shift in poverty. The share of the nation’s population that lives in cities increased from 70 percent in 1960 to 81 percent in 2010. During this period, bolstered by federal housing policy, wealthier whites moved to the suburbs while the poor clustered within the cities.  A lot of the country’s most crowded cities happen to be in the West, Northeast, and Midwest. Twenty of the most populous counties in these cities—Los Angeles County in L.A., Queens County in New York, and Clark County in Nevada, for example—have gained poor residents. In 2010, one in five low-income Americans lived in these counties; back in 1960, these regions only contained 14 percent of the nation’s poor.


Number of the Day

20,402 – The total number of homeless students who were enrolled in public schools in local education agencies in Louisiana (Source: U.S. Department of Education)