Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco saw Louisiana through its most trying time – the dark days after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. She presided over the unprecedented economic boom that followed, which brought teacher pay to the Southern average and the first Earned Income Tax Credit among Southern states. Now she is fighting a rare and aggressive form of melanoma for which there is no cure. But it did not stop her from accepting an award last week from the Council for a Better Louisiana, where she talked about Louisiana’s biggest problem – poverty – and the best solution. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace:
She argued that poverty carries tremendous personal and economic costs and that education can be the great equalizer — but only if the state makes some good old-fashioned investments. … “For the last several years we’ve operated on a false narrative,” she said. “The Legislature chose to actually disinvest in education, demoralizing teachers with low pay, and then refused to modernize classrooms. We cheat our children and weaken our future workforce when we do this. Obviously, the cycles of poverty are never to be broken under these conditions.” Indeed, she argued, supporting schools is one of the best ways to raise Louisiana off the bottom of all those bad lists. People without sufficient educations qualify only for low-wage jobs, she noted, which not only deprives them of opportunities but costs everyone else. They often need public subsidies for health care, food and housing, or wind up in prison — which, she said, is more costly than school. “Every element of impoverished peoples’ lives has to be supplemented,” she said. “And so don’t you think, and don’t you agree, that it makes more economic sense to properly educate our citizens in the first place?”
Stalemate continues over revenue forecast
Louisiana’s tax revenues for the current fiscal year and the next will almost certainly be higher than originally projected. We know this because two nonpartisan state economists who are paid to study such things have determined that the earlier forecast – made last June – have determined that income tax revenues will be higher than expected due to strong economic growth. In a normal year, the Revenue Estimating Conference would revise the forecast using the most up-to-date research, and the governor and Legislature would then decide what to do with the extra money. But this is not a normal year, and House Speaker Taylor Barras has decided to stick with the outdated forecast. This complicates efforts to fund $43 million in spending priorities outlined in the current-year budget, and a teacher pay raise that Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to include in his 2019-20 budget proposal. AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
Senate President John Alario said lawmakers should be pleased the state’s income forecast is improving, after a decade of budget shortfalls. If more revisions are needed, he said, the forecasting conference can adjust projections again. “There’s a lot of checks and balances along the way,” Alario said. Barras said he’d rather be cautious than overestimate income and require lawmakers to make budget cuts before the fiscal year ends June 30. He called plunges in oil prices “incredibly alarming.” Because of the concerns about steep drops recently in per-barrel oil prices, economists tweaked their forecasts — though they said they didn’t believe such conservative adjustments were needed. … Barras said he’d prefer to wait until March to make any changes, though Dardenne expects another Revenue Estimating Conference meeting to be called in January or February.
Administrative changes threaten SNAP
A compromise federal farm bill has emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, and it looks a lot like the bipartisan version that passed the U.S. Senate. This is a win for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and anti-poverty advocates, as the Senate bill eschewed harsh work reporting requirements that would have taken food off the tables of Americans who struggle to make ends meet while creating massive bureaucracies at the state level. As Politico’s Catherine Boudreau and Helena Bottemiller Evich explain, however, administrative actions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may still take benefits away from people unable to meet rigid rules on work hours:
While conservatives didn’t get what they wanted in the farm bill, the Agriculture Department is preparing to give them a win by releasing a rule expected to make it harder for states to waive existing work requirements for able-bodied adult SNAP recipients. In effect, it is a way to make work rules more stringent without congressional approval. “Through regulation we’ll be able to please those conservatives who expected more work requirements in the farm bill, as I did, as President Trump did,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters after an Illinois Farm Bureau event in Chicago last week. The House proposal on stricter SNAP work requirements and tightened eligibility standards together would have dropped about 1.5 million people from the program, according to CBO projections. Stronger work requirements would have led to a cut of some $9 billion in SNAP benefits over a decade, and the House bill called for using that money to fund a massive expansion of state-run SNAP employment and job-training efforts. The final compromise doesn’t cut SNAP benefits or change eligibility criteria in any significant way.
The part-time economy
The November Employment Situation Report issued Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a generally robust economy, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 3.7 percent nationwide. But this 30,000 foot view obscures some important realities that low-wage, part-time and marginally attached workers face: many workers want full-time employment but can’t find it. Daniella Zessoules, Galen Hendricks and Michael Madowitz of the Center for American Progress dig deeper and find that while the overall jobs picture is encouraging, groups that have historically faced barriers to labor market participation continue to fare worse than the overall economic picture would suggest:
In October 2018, there were roughly the same number of involuntary part-time workers, 4.5 million, as in the previous month—still significantly higher than the precrisis low of 3.8 million in April 2006. The gains from the recovery have not been experienced equally among different demographics, and those with historically worse labor market conditions continue to face higher unemployment rates with long-term detrimental effects. The overall unemployment rate fell from 10 percent to 3.7 percent between October 2009 and October 2018, and the rate for black or African Americans dropped from 15.8 percent to 6.2 percent during the same time frame; however, there is still a significant gap. Younger people also face disproportionately high unemployment rates, with black or African American youth suffering from unemployment rates that are more than four times that of the overall population. Focusing on the groups whose unemployment rates continue to have room for improvement should be a benchmark for the health of the U.S. labor market overall. Expanding their opportunities in the labor market can be a source of future economic growth.
This analysis has important implications for debates about work requirements that threaten to take public benefits from currently eligible recipients. A low unemployment rate can mask real hardships that workers face in getting enough work at high enough pay to sustain their families. Rigid work requirements miss that reality, and threaten the ability of many households to stay fed and healthy.
Number of the Day
4,802,000 – Number of U.S. workers who want to work full-time, but can only find part-time employment due to economic conditions. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)