New Orleans is known for its tourism, but a new report by Robert Habans and Allison Plyer of the Data Center shows that the majority of the 30,000 people employed in this vital industry work in low-paying jobs. Nola.com/The Times Picayune looked at the wages for the most common hotel and restaurant jobs and found that an overwhelming majority of workers in those industries make less than $15 per hour. This puts these workers below the median hourly wage needed to afford a modest two-bedroom rental apartment in Louisiana. The report lays out the facts about the the number of tourism jobs in New Orleans and the wages they pay, but the authors note that bigger questions remain about the futures these jobs offer for workers:
Future research should aim to move past the admittedly complicated task of describing the quality and quantity of tourism jobs. A more fundamental set of questions concern the role of tourism, and its alternatives, in career pathways for New Orleans’ workers. Do tourism jobs, even low-wage jobs, function as an on-ramp to participation in a wider set of job market opportunities, or are there truly few alternatives for entry-level workers? Previous research on the New Orleans metro has concluded that 17 percent of total jobs in the tourism and hospitality cluster are “good jobs,” which pay a living wage or provide pathways to jobs in other occupations that pay a living wage. Because the tourism and hospitality cluster is relatively large, it provides a large number of these “good jobs.” Nonetheless, of all metro New Orleans’ traded clusters, tourism jobs were the least likely to be “good jobs.”22 This finding, in conjunction with the analysis presented within this report, underscores the conclusion that improving the quality of existing job opportunities – and connecting low- and middle-skilled workers to better ones – involves more than tourism and hospitality.
An update on childcare for low-income Louisianans
Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant in 2014. Since then, the Center for Law and Social Policy has been documenting how states are implementing the law’s provisions. Louisiana faced many challenges and did not comply with many parts of the law, which did not include funding for providers to meet its new requirements, such as background checks for child care providers. But the state has also made incremental changes that have improved access to subsidized child care for low-income families. The report, by CLASP’s Christine Johnson-Staub & Shiva Sethi, outlines where things stand, and lays out the next steps:
Louisiana has already used new CCDBG funds to take more than 4,000 children of its child care assistance waitlist. Some of the funding was also used to reimburse providers for background check costs. Teacher-child ratios for child care are still high, infant-toddlers subsidy rates are still low, and developmental screenings need to be prioritized more highly. Louisiana should prioritize using additional CCDBG funds to address these remaining challenges as soon as possible.
Louisiana audit sparks suspicion in Washington
Two members of Congress are using a Louisiana Medicaid audit to justify a federal investigation into the health insurance program that serves low-income adults, children and people with disabilities. In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Reps. Ron Johnson and Jim Jordan cited a November audit by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera alleging that a small number of people had received Medicaid benefits despite having incomes that were too high to qualify. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports:
“If these improper payments are occurring in one state, it is logical to assume overpayments are occurring in other states,” the Republican congressmen wrote in the letter. “We respectfully request information about what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to do to determine where overpayments are being made, steps CMS will take to recover overpayments, and controls CMS will put in place to ensure federal Medicaid dollars are only paid to those who qualify.” […] Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, expanded Medicaid in July 2016 under an optional provision of the federal Affordable Care Act. Since then, more than 481,000 people, mostly the working poor, have been added to the state’s Medicaid rolls. The expansion applies to adults whose household income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $16,600 a year for a single person or $33,900 annually for a family of four.
In December, LBP’s Jeanie Donovan (now policy director at the Louisiana Department of Health) provided some necessary context for the report, noting that the audit did not rely on a true random sample of Medicaid enrollees, that it found no illegal or improper actions by eligible workers or the officials who oversee the program and that while some ineligible people may have received health services they didn’t qualify for, the Medicaid program provides no cash payments to recipients.
With public defense underfunded, one Lafayette lawyer has to do the work of five
Every person accused of a crime in America has the right to a speedy trial and a competent lawyer, regardless of resources. But this Constitutional guarantee can seem hollow when public defenders are overburdened with heavy caseloads that leave little time for each individual client. The New York Times’s Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jugal K. Patel look at one such lawyer in Lafayette. Jack Talaska had 194 felony cases on his docket at one point last year, which isn’t far outside the norm. One public defender in Louisiana had 413 clients.
Right now, courts allow an individual to claim, after they lose, that they received an ineffective defense. But the bar is high. Some judges have ruled that taking illegal drugs, driving to court drunk or briefly falling asleep at the defense table — even during critical testimony — did not make a lawyer inadequate. It is even harder to make the argument that the sheer size of lawyers’ caseloads makes it impossible for them to provide what the Constitution requires: a reasonably effective defense. That is partly because there has never been a reliable standard for how much time is enough. Now, reformers are using data in a novel attempt to create such a standard. The studies they have produced so far, in four states, say that public defenders have two to almost five times as many cases as they should.
Number of the Day
$16.63 – Hourly wage need to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home in Louisiana. (Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition)