The economic gap between white and black households in New Orleans has grown wider in recent decades, with African American families actually earning less, on average, than in 1979 after adjusting for inflation. This disturbing finding comes in new research from The Data Center, and bucks national trends that have seen incomes rise for all racial groups. The report found that incomes for black families have fallen 15 percent, while the employment rate for black men has fallen by 11 percentage points since 1980. The Advocate’s Jessica Williams reports that Louisiana’s massive incarceration rate, along with the prevalence of low-paid tourism jobs, could be largely to blame.
Black residents’ ability to get high-skilled jobs also has been hampered by the city’s public and private K-12 school systems, which have not properly equipped black children for college, the report says. While more New Orleanians are attending college today than years ago, the city’s college-going rate for black students still lags behind the national rate. … Moreover, they said, investments in affordable housing and public transit are needed to ensure that people, when hired, can live near and get to their jobs. Finally, employers need to be mindful of the unconscious biases that have helped foster oppression. “Leaders in all sectors, not just economic development, can examine their own impact on minority communities and consider how they may be contributing to these disparities — thinking ‘outside the box’ about how to turn them around,” the authors wrote.
Budget bills start moving
The legislative session is approaching its midpoint, but the political battles over the state budget are just getting started. This morning the House Appropriations Committee is putting its stamp on the budget bill – House Bill 1 – by adding in $346 million in projected revenues recognized last week by the Revenue Estimating Conference. The new money isn’t nearly enough to fill major gaps in the Medicaid budget, higher education and public safety, nor does it begin to make the investments necessary to move Louisiana’s economy forward. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has a preview:
House GOP leaders unveil their spending proposal Monday, and it’s expected to be at odds with the approach favored by the governor, who wants to call another special session to pass taxes to replace some expiring temporary taxes that are creating the budget gap. Edwards’ difficulties with the Legislature, particularly with the more conservative House, began even before he took office in 2016, as he tried to follow his predecessors’ lead in having a heavy hand in choosing legislative leadership.
The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp notes that Senate is trying its best to pick up the pace, so that lawmakers can adjourn the regular session by mid-May and turn its attention to a special session where they could debate revenue measures to fill the remaining $648 million budget gap.
So far, the Republican-controlled House hasn’t committed to an early end, nor the need for another special session. House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said he believes that the chamber can pass a balanced budget this week that would rely on cuts to make up the difference. “We’ll see what the Senate does from there,” he said.
In a letter to Barras and Senate President John Alario, the Louisiana Budget Project and 14 other stakeholder groups urge the Legislature to finish its work early so that Medicaid patients, college students and others who depend on a stable and adequate state budget will know what next year holds. To read a copy of the letter, click here.
Expanding the right to vote
Some 71,000 Louisianans who committed felony crimes and are now on parole or probation could eventually gain the right to vote under legislation that’s working its way through the Legislature. House Bill 265 by Rep. Patricia Smith would restore the rights after five years for people who follow certain guidelines. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press has the details.
Smith failed to get them the right to vote in legislation she filed during previous sessions. She wasn’t willing to agree then to the five-year supervisory period in her current bill. Kenneth Johnson, 67, and a Vietnam War veteran, has been out of prison for 23 years after serving time for a non-violent crime. He will be on parole for the rest of his life, and got support from the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) that filed documents in the case. “Despite serving his country in war, starting his own paralegal agency and staying out of prison for 23 years, under the Louisiana statutes at issue, Mr. Johnson will never again have the opportunity to vote,” the APPA said.
Child poverty is really expensive
People who experience poverty in childhood are less likely to become economically productive as adults, more likely to face future health problems and to end up in the criminal justice system. In other words, poverty is costly – not just to the millions of American kids who suffer under its weight, but to the rest of society that will later pay the costs of our nation’s inadequate safety net. Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University, has a new study that calculates the price for this neglect. It is especially important at a time when politicians in Washington are proposing to further weaken social welfare programs as a way to pay for tax cuts.
In a study published in Social Work Research, we determined that childhood poverty cost the nation $1.03 trillion in 2015. This number represented 5.4 percent of the G.D.P. Impoverished children grow up possessing fewer skills and are thus less able to contribute to the productivity of the economy. They are also more likely to experience frequent health care problems and to engage in crime. These costs are borne by the children themselves, but ultimately by the wider society as well. An even clearer way of gauging the magnitude of these costs is to compare their total with the total amount of federal spending in 2015. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government spent $3.7 trillion that year, meaning that the annual cost of childhood poverty represented 28 percent of the entire federal budget.
Number of the Day
$7 – Savings to American taxpayers, over time, for every $1 invested in reducing child poverty (Source: Mark Rank via New York Times)