The poverty rate in Louisiana for adults and children remained unacceptably high in 2015 even as other states saw significant improvements. New U.S. Census data released Thursday also show that Louisiana continues to have one of the highest rates of income inequality in the United States. They point to the need for greater investments in programs that support low-income working families, such as child care assistance, need-based financial aid for college, and an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.
Nearly one in five Louisianans — 889,946 people, or 19.6 percent of the population — lived in poverty last year, the third-highest rate in the nation. That includes more than 300,000 children (28.4 percent; also third highest).
Wages in Louisiana continue to lag behind the rest of the nation. Louisiana’s median household income was $45,727 in 2015, compared to a national median of $55,775. And income inequality is fourth-highest among the states, trailing only Connecticut, New York and the District of Columbia – one more reason the state should reform its upside down tax structure.
Widening the I-10
A stretch of Interstate 10 just south of Baton Rouge is slated to undergo an expansion to six lanes. The project comes with a price tag that’s likely to exceed $60 million. A large portion of the financing will come through repurposing federal dollars originally set aside for other state infrastructure projects. The Advocate’s WIll Sentell explains:
[Gov. John Bel] Edwards told reporters Tuesday that, without the state’s plan, Louisiana would be in danger of losing money to other states. Work in Lake Charles, $9.6 million; Shreveport, $9.5 million and New Orleans, $4.1 million, is also being revamped to help with the interstate widening. The new form of financing is needed to make the I-10 expansion a reality. The state faces a $12.7 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, and previous efforts to come up with solutions have failed in the Legislature.
Earlier this year, Liz McNichol, a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explained why there is no better time than the present to invest in public infrastructure:
The condition of roads, bridges, schools, water treatment plants, and other physical assets greatly affects the economy’s ability to function and grow. Commerce requires well-maintained roads, railroads, airports, and ports so that manufacturers can obtain raw materials and parts, and deliver finished products to consumers. Improving many types of public infrastructure boosts the productivity of businesses by reducing their costs. … Carefully targeted initiatives to maintain and improve public infrastructure boosts a state’s long-term productivity, resulting in more economic growth and higher-wage jobs. In the short-term, under the right conditions – including the current ones – public infrastructure investments also can create needed jobs.
Justice for Some
Louisiana’s public defender crisis means that poor people accused of crimes are often represented by lawyers with no experience in criminal defense – while other defendants languish for months because there are no lawyers available to provide them with the Constitutional guarantee of due process. The horrifying details are laid out in an investigation by the Marshall Project that ran on Nola.com/The Times-Picayune:
As Louisiana continues to provide insufficient, unreliable funding for the legal representation of the poor — “on a scale unprecedented in the history of American public defense,” warned an open letter by the president of the American Bar Association — public defenders across the state have barely scraped by, foregoing office necessities and laying off attorneys and staff. Earlier this year, many of these offices had so few staff that they resorted to placing hundreds of their clients — even those sitting in jail, awaiting trial — on “wait lists” to receive a lawyer. “Conflict cases,” with multiple co-defendants requiring multiple lawyers, had become especially overwhelming for the defenders to handle.
Jeff Landry vs. Jay Dardenne (again)
Attorney General Jeff Landry wants more money to beef up his Medicaid fraud unit and to enforce new abortion restrictions. Gov. John Bel Edwards said he needs to find the cash within his own agency instead of raiding other departments. As disagreements between Landry and Edwards usually do, this one quickly spilled into public view. Star reporter Melinda Deslatte of the AP has the scoop:
(Commissioner of Administration Jay) Dardenne said the investigation of Medicaid fraud cases is a joint effort with the legislative auditor’s office and the Department of Health. Landry proposed to hire new staff and outfit them with state vehicles, Dardenne said, but neither of the other agencies had the additional money or extra staff to do the work Landry was suggesting. “We felt like we needed to be consistent” across all three agencies, Dardenne said. On the abortion lawsuit, Dardenne said Landry sought to take money from the state health department, which Dardenne said would force health service cuts.
Number of the Day
19.6 – The percentage of Louisianans living in poverty in 2015, the third highest rate in the country. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)