Poverty, education and political expediency
Louisiana has America’s third-highest rate of child poverty at nearly 28 percent. That’s 306,000 children, enough to fill Tiger Stadium three times over. When asked what they will do to reduce this shameful statistic, many politicians answer that education is the key. But what if they are wrong? What if that answer is “evasive and naive,” a cop out that ignores the root problem? Nola.com columnist Bob Mann digs deeper:
Arguing that education is the key to curing poverty is like saying swimming will prevent drowning. Of course, but could the best instructor in the world teach a child to swim if the student showed up for lessons wearing 20-pound weights on each arm? That weight – the onerous burden of poverty – is what holds back many Louisiana children. It’s what makes the efforts of even the best teachers so challenging. When a child arrives at school unprepared or unable to learn because of circumstances beyond the school’s or its teachers’ control, why would we blame the school and its teachers?…”You know what causes poverty? Poverty causes poverty because being born poor is the most reliable predictor we have about whether someone will grow up to live in poverty. So, telling a young person that she needs to buckle down and get a better education when we’re unwilling to invest in the assistance and infrastructure that will prepare that child to learn, is unrealistic. In fact, it’s worse than unrealistic. It’s cruel.
Mann argues real solutions are needed that address poverty head on by boosting family incomes and removing barriers to access to critical goods like health care and child care. He recommends expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and fixing our state’s upside-down tax code that asks more from the poor than the rich. And when it comes to education, he says we should be investing in high-quality pre-K. Given research that shows the first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial for brain development, that is spot on. Unfortunately, given that Louisiana’s budget is in shambles, it is heavy lift. Ultimately, Mann says, tackling poverty is a question of political will.
Fiscal impact of immigration
A meeting of a legislative study committee set up to examine the cost of illegal immigration in Louisiana got heated on Thursday. Marsha Shuler with the Advocate has details:
“This is a sham,” Bienville House Center for Peace and Justice official Brian Marks said. “You are looking at the expense of immigrants … but not what immigrants are contributing to the state.” Marks said the task force created by the Louisiana House had plenty of representatives from the Eagle Forum and Center for Security Policy — both “hard-right” organizations — but no advocates for immigrants. “Every time there’s an economic crisis, it’s always blamed on immigrants,” Fernando Lopez said. “They work, and they pay taxes.” State Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican and chairwoman of the Immigration Task Force, said the panel’s mission is focused on budget impact…“We want to know what part of [the deficit] it is,” Hodges said, adding that the economic impact of illegal immigrants “could be catastrophic.”
According to testimony from state agencies, 287 of Louisiana’s 37,000 prisoners are undocumented immigrants, at a cost of $3.29 million, while emergency health care for undocumented immigrants cost $16 million. That sounds like a lot, but it is only looking at one side of the balance sheet. On the revenue side, undocumented immigrants in Louisiana pay an estimated $60 million in state and local taxes, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. Doing the math, it is clear that illegal immigration is not to blame for Louisiana’s deficit, but is likely a net-positive to the state’s budget.
Boys do cry
A growing body of research suggests that growing up in a disadvantaged household is more damaging for boys than girls, which is likely contributing to a growing “gender gap” in things like high school graduation and college attendance. Claire Cain Miller with the New York Times reports:
New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters…The reasons that boys react more negatively to disadvantage are varied and hard to pinpoint. Even in utero, boys are more sensitive to extreme stress than girls, and tend to have more unruly temperaments…By the time boys from poor neighborhoods start kindergarten, they are already less prepared than their sisters. The gap keeps widening: They are more likely to be suspended, skip school, perform poorly on standardized tests, drop out of high school, commit crimes as juveniles and have behavioral or learning disabilities.
The “gender gap” in test scores and high school graduation is much larger for black and Latino children compared to their white counterparts. More than half of that difference is because of higher poverty rates. Here in Louisiana, the poverty rate for black children is a shocking 48 percent, compared to 15 percent for white children.
Election Day is Saturday
Louisianans go to the polls tomorrow to cast votes for governor, legislators and other statewide offices, and to weigh in on four proposed constitutional amendments. You can find your polling place and look at a sample ballot on the Secretary of State’s website by clicking here. If you are still undecided on how you will vote for governor, check out the United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s voter guide (they also have a guide for New Orleans-area legislative races). Further down the ballot, the constitutional amendments can be tricky to decipher. Fortunately, the Public Affairs Research Council has a nonpartisan guide to understanding them. And the Louisiana Budget Project put out a commentary explaining why we think Amendment 1 would be a bad idea. Geaux vote!
Number of the Day
306,000 – Number of children in Louisiana who live in poverty, enough to fill Tiger Stadium three times (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)