May 19, 2016

May 19, 2016

The middle class is shrinking; Privatization bill moves forward; Krugman: Where are our family values? and; Public art spending curbed

The middle class is shrinking

Monroe, LA has the lowest share of adults living in middle-income households, according to new data from Pew Research Center. But Louisiana also has three cities – New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge – that ranked among the top 10 communities that gained “economic status” between 2000 and 2014.  Pew analyzed government data and found that from 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 metropolitan areas analyzed.


The shrinking of the middle class at the national level, to the point where it may no longer be the economic majority in the U.S., was documented in an earlier analysis by the Pew Research Center. The changes at the metropolitan level, the subject of this in-depth look at the American middle class, demonstrate that the national trend is the result of widespread declines in localities all around the country…With relatively fewer Americans in the middle-income tier, the economic tiers above and below have grown in significance over time. The share of adults in upper-income households increased in 172 of the 229 metropolitan areas, even as the share of adults in lower-income households rose in 160 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2014. The shifting economic fortunes of localities were not an either/or proposition: Some 108 metropolitan areas experienced growth in both the lower- and upper-income tiers.


Privatization bill moves forward

A scheme by sheriffs and district attorneys to wring more money from uninsured motorists moved forward Wednesday in a House committee, which had earlier rejected the same legislation. As The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports, the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee advanced a bill that would let a private company install licence-plate readers in police cars that are meant to catch and fine people who are driving without insurance. The money would be split between sheriffs, district attorneys and the private company.


The private firm has said it would spend $5.3 million to install the cameras in sheriffs’ vehicles in nine parishes, establish the software program to tap into a state database of motorists to determine which ones didn’t have car insurance as required by law and hire workers to manage the program. Under a calculation presented Wednesday by one opponent, Charles Saucier, a member of the Libertarian Party, the company would have to collect fines from at least 83,000 uninsured motorists — at $200 a pop — to break even on its $5.3 million investment.


Krugman: Where are our family values?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes that America’s politicians aren’t putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to family values. The United States invests far less than other advanced countries on early childhood education – even though research shows such spending pays long-term dividends by strengthening the next generation of workers and taxpayers:


Our public expenditure on child care and early education, as a share of income, is near the bottom in international rankings (although if it makes you feel better, we do slightly edge out Estonia.) In other words, if you judge us by what we do, not what we say, we place very little value on the lives of our children, unless they happen to come from affluent families. Did I mention that parents in the top fifth of U.S. households spend seven times as much on their children as parents in the bottom fifth? … Our threadbare system of public support for child care and early education costs 0.4 percent of the G.D.P.; France’s famously generous system costs 1.2 percent of the G.D.P. So we could move a long way up the scale with a fairly modest investment. And it would indeed be an investment — every bit as much of an investment as spending money to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. … And affordable child care would also have the immediate benefit of making it easier for parents to work productively.


Public art spending curbed

A bill to cap the amount of money the state can spend on public art for major construction projects is headed to the conference committee in order to work out disagreements on adopted amendments. Currently the state is required to spend 1 percent of the total cost of the project on art inside or outside of the building. House Bill 216 by Rep. Bob Hensgens of Abbeville would cap the amount spent at $450,000 or 1 percent, whichever is less. Rebekah Allen of the Advocate has more on a controversial amendment to the bill that was ultimately rejected.


The Senate previously added an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, that mandated agencies could not spend money on art until first seeking out donations. Hensgens ultimately asked the House to reject the amendment because he said receiving free art would prevent the agencies from getting to the 1 percent of funds that have to be expended on art. On Wednesday, the House voted to reject the amendment. Ahead of the vote, art advocates like Louisiana Citizens for the Arts urged the Legislature to reject the amendment, calling it offensive to the trade. “The artists of Louisiana, especially those involved in the Percent for Art Program, are professionals, often with decades of training and dedication. Many have their work commissioned, installed and paid for by communities around the country,” the nonprofit wrote in an open online letter to legislators. “These artists are small-business people with a payroll to meet, rent to pay and their own families to feed.” The organization also said Louisiana ranks 40th in per capita arts funding and is 11th out of 15 Southern states.


Number of the Day

-39.1 – Percent change in Louisiana’s higher education spending per student (adjusted for inflation) from 2008-2016 (Source: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)