The American economy is booming by some metrics. But millions of families lack the economic stability to withstand a future downturn, and nowhere is this problem more prevalent than in Louisiana. The Pelican State ranks 51st – behind every other state and the District of Columbia – on an index of economic well-being developed by Prosperity Now that takes into accounts the racial disparities in outcomes. Prosperity Now’s Scorecard has the details, with recommendations on potential state policy changes:
This rank is based on states’ performance on economic measures for all residents but also accounts for racial disparities in outcomes. Relative to other states, Louisiana has the worst performance for residents overall and the extreme gap between White residents and residents of color keeps Louisiana’s Scorecard rank at the bottom. These disparities have negative implications for the prosperity of Louisiana. For example, the homeownership rate of White households is 76% compared to 47% for Black households and 44% for Latino households.
Reviving a moral agenda for the poor
In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. started the Poor People’s campaign to focus on economic justice and human rights for America’s poor. Fifty years later, the movement has been revived by Dr. William Barber, a North Carolina preacher who spent some time in south Louisiana this week. Columnist Jarvis DeBerry, of Nola.com/The Times Picayune reflects on why the campaign is still relevant a half-century later.
According to a January report from the Louisiana Association of United Ways, a family of four needs $61,000 a year just to barely get by in New Orleans. But more than half the city’s households are struggling to bring in that much. About a quarter of the city’s 154,000 households were living in poverty, which means they were making less than $24,3000 a year to provide for a family of four. According to a December report from the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University, 1 in 6 Louisianians (about 783,000 in all) struggle with hunger. Louisiana is renowned for its cuisine, but rampant food insecurity led the JSRI to call its report “Hungry at the Banquet.” Barber writes the foreword to a book I just started reading: “Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion.” In that foreword, he writes, “In his first sermon – not his second or third, but his very first sermon – Jesus said, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor.’” “I don’t know a gospel,” he writes, “that doesn’t challenge the injustice of poverty.” And so Barber has brought his message that poverty is injustice to one of America’s poorest states.
Automatic budgeting is not the answer to shutdowns
The 35-day partial government shutdown – history’s longest – harmed hundreds of thousands of workers and the overall economy. To avoid repeats of this self-inflicted debacle, a movement is afoot on Capitol Hill to have automatic “continuing resolutions” that would keep government funding at current levels if politicians can’t reach agreement on a new budget. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Richard Kogan and Paul Van De Water report that this approach may do more harm than good:
By allowing the government to keep operating without any action by Congress and the President, an automatic CR mechanism would significantly reduce pressure to reach agreement on full-year appropriation bills and thus would tend to prolong budgetary uncertainty. Most important, it likely would significantly increase the instances in which the previous year’s appropriation levels and priorities remain in place for a year or more while pressing, new needs go unattended and areas that no longer need as much funding are overfunded. In addition, by freezing funding at last year’s levels (as an automatic CR would likely do), it would strengthen the hand of those who want to shrink the size of government.
Walkouts are working
Education funding has been lagging in states across America, and teachers around the country have had enough. Protests and walkouts have made news from Los Angeles to West Virginia and points in between, as educators demand higher salaries and more resources. These movements have caught the eyes of governors in Louisiana and elsewhere, who are proposing to increase teacher pay But political partisanship, budget constraints, and disagreements on what type of reform measures, if any, should accompany additional dollars could lead to some tense debates. Pew Trust’s Sophie Quinton with more:
Many state leaders, facing widespread teacher shortages and pressure from educators, want to earmark a portion of education funding for teacher pay increases. Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has called for increasing teacher starting salaries to $40,000, up from $35,800. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, also a Republican, wants to increase the minimum teacher salary by $4,000 over four years. Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has called for a $3,000 increase in fiscal 2020. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has called increasing teacher salaries by $1,000 his “No. 1 priority” this year. And South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, like Northam in Virginia, wants teachers to get a 5 percent raise. Texas’ Abbott wants to increase merit pay, while Colorado’s Polis has called for student loan relief for teachers in rural areas. With states expected, overall, to have healthy budgets this year, it looks like it could be a good year for teacher salaries and education funding, Griffith said. “The huge question is: Is that going to be 2 percent more or 8 percent more? There’s a huge difference between those numbers.”
Number of the Day
32.9 – Percentage of Louisiana jobs in occupations with median annual pay below 100% poverty threshold for a family of four ($24,300). (Source: Prosperity Now)