Nearly half of Louisiana households struggled to afford basic needs in 2016, according to the latest United Way ALICE report released this morning. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed and represents households who earn wages above the federal poverty level, but that aren’t enough to cover a basic household survival budget. Louisiana has the third highest percentage of ALICE households in the United States. Some key takeaways:
Governor outlines legislative priorities
Gov. John Bel Edwards outlined his legislative priorities for 2019 while speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday. While there are still three months until the start of this year’s legislative session, Edwards emphasized his support for pay raises at public schools, a minimum wage increase, equal pay laws and health care protections. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
“Pay increase will help recruit talented teachers and make Louisiana more competitive relative to other (Southern) states and improved educational outcomes in Louisiana, because the number one ingredient to quality education is to have a highly professional, motivated teacher in every single classroom,” he said. … Edwards also said he’ll try again to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage and enact equal pay requirements on private industry, despite three years of rejection from the majority-Republican House and Senate. Business lobbying groups strongly oppose the proposals. … Also on the agenda, Edwards said he will ask lawmakers to prohibit health insurers from refusing coverage to people because of their medical conditions. That’s aimed at duplicating a provision of the federal health care overhaul that is threatened by litigation.
Edwards also reiterated his support for work requirements for some Medicaid recipients – an idea that failed to gain traction last year at the Legislature despite attempts to ensure that no one would lose coverage. Nola.com/Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue has the story:
A watered-down Medicaid work bill that passed the House last year only got through after it was altered to say that Medicaid recipients who refused to work couldn’t actually lose their health care. Medicaid work requirements tend to be more popular with Republicans, but the GOP-controlled Legislature was cold to what Edwards, a Democrat, had backed. They did not want to be perceived as kicking people off the Medicaid program. Imposing work requirements would also impose an untold cost on the state. Fiscal analysts agreed that Louisiana would eventually have to spend money to implement Medicaid work requirements, though it wasn’t clear how much. Such a program could only save a significant amount of money, if people lost their Medicaid benefits as a result. Again, lawmakers didn’t want to see that happen. “The Legislature told us they did not want any individual to lose Medicaid coverage because of this,” Edwards said.
Click here to read a policy brief from LBP explaining how Medicaid work requirements fail to connect many people with work while imposing significant costs on the state and imperiling the health of low-income Louisianans.
Voting rights debate should focus on policy, not numbers
Gov. John Bel Edwards sidestepped a question on Monday about how many formerly incarcerated people should have their voting rights restored under a new state law. The law, which will go into effect on March 1, was originally thought to only apply to former felons on parole. However, a new interpretation could mean it could apply to a much larger group of people. Nola.com/Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue breaks down the new interpretation of the law.
When Edwards and legislators were considering it last spring, the Louisiana Department of Corrections said between 2,200 and 3,500 people would be affected. Now, the state estimates about 10 times that many people will be re-enfranchised. On Monday, Edwards said he hadn’t heard personally the law would impact as many as 35,000 people. In an interview with NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune a few hours later, Deputy Corrections Secretary Natalie LaBorde, an appointee of Edwards, confirmed a rough estimate of 36,000 pardoned and parole felons potentially being impacted. There are about 29,000 parolees and 35,000 probationers in Louisiana, according to the state. Almost all of them, with the exception of 1,500 probationers serving special deferred sentences, currently cannot vote in elections. The new law would create a major exception to that policy.
The importance of a college degree
Louisiana has cut more state funding from higher education than any other state, on a per-pupil basis, since the 2008 start of the Great Recession. Even with an improving economy, however, a college degree remains a prerequisite for the majority of future jobs. Writing in a guest column for the Advocate, John Nicklow, president of the University of New Orleans, explains why high-school seniors considering skipping college to enter the workforce might want to reconsider.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce notes that by next year, 65 percent of all jobs will require a college degree. The center also reports that during the post-recession era, of the 11.6 million jobs created, 99 percent went to workers with more than a high school education, and 72 percent went to those with at least a bachelor’s degree. By all indications, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher are taking nearly all available jobs in middle- and high-skills occupations, effectively a college-fed economy. And those without a college degree are falling out of America’s middle class. The bachelor’s degree has become a minimum qualification to compete and build a healthy career in most industries. Salaries tell a similar story: A bachelor’s degree is worth nearly 70 percent more in annual income compared to those with only a high-school diploma, and a graduate degree is worth 120 percent more. Over their lifetime, bachelor’s degree holders will earn more than $1 million more than their counterparts without a similar degree. Those college graduates also tend to have better access to health care, greater social networks and improved overall psychological well-being.
Number of the Day
66 – percent of jobs in Louisiana that pay less than $20/hour. (Source: United Way ALICE report)