Louisiana has 100,000 fewer children than it did in 1990. But one thing hasn’t changed: kids in the Pelican State still face some of the highest obstacles to opportunity in the nation. This is especially true in minority communities, where child poverty rates lead the nation. Wilborn P. Nobles, III of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune details these and other findings from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s recently released 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which found that Louisiana continues to rank at or near the bottom in each of the foundation’s four categories: economic well being (50th), education (48th), health (42nd), and family and community (48th). The state ranked 49th overall, down from 48th in 2017.
Most southern states saw large increases in their child populations between 1990 and 2017, making Louisiana an outlier in the region, the report stated. The report said that more than 13 million U.S. children live in poverty, and said the nation is failing to equip many children, particularly in communities of color, with what they need to reach their full potential. Agenda for Children CEO Anthony Recasner in a statement Monday (June 17) said Texas saw its child population increase by more than 2.4 million children. He stressed Louisiana needs to invest in policies and programs that give children “a strong foundation and attract new families” to the state in order to see Louisiana grow and thrive. “Louisiana’s children represent 1,108,403 unique opportunities to create a stronger, more vibrant state,” Recasner stated.
Louisiana finally restores state funds for civil legal aid services
When poor people are accused of a crime, they are entitled to legal representation, though Louisiana’s public defenders remain severely under-resourced. But low-income Louisianans have no such entitlement in civil court. While the Legal Services Corporations provide free representation for some, a lack of funding has meant that low-income people needing legal aid are too-often turned away. Now, people who can’t afford legal representation in civil court will receive a little more help thanks to a bill passed the last day of the legislative session. The bill provides $500,000 in state funding for organizations providing legal aid, like Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and Acadiana Legal Services Corporation, bringing Louisiana in line with the majority of states. Richard A. Webster for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune highlights the financial impact each dollar invested in legal aid brings to families in need:
Only three other states don’t provide any funding for civil legal services: Alabama, Florida and Idaho. What most states dedicate to these services varies widely, according to the American Bar Association. Arkansas provides $556,000 annually; Mississippi $708,000; Georgia $3.1 million; and Texas nearly $72 million. There is monetary value of investing in such civil legal aid, according to a report by the Louisiana Access to Justice Commission. The study showed that there is a $9.13 return for every $1 invested. This represents homes and jobs saved, debt relief, and health coverage obtained, among other benefits.
Making work pay
This past weekend marked the longest period in history that the federal minimum wage has gone without an increase. The last time Congress authorized a change was May 2007, when it increased the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. But without an adjustment for inflation, the federal minimum wage has lost 17% of its value since 2007 and 31% of the purchasing power it provided at its peak in 1968. Louisiana is one of five states that does not set a minimum wage, defaulting instead to the federal minimum – a policy the legislature again failed to address this year. Sixteen additional states has state wage floors at or below the federal level. David Cooper of Economic Policy Institute explains how allowing the minimum wage to stagnate for so long has put low-wage earners at a disadvantage, and what can be done to make work pay for those earning the least:
A simple way to fix this problem once and for all would be to adopt automatic annual minimum wage adjustment (or “indexing”), as 18 states and the District of Columbia have done. The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024—boosting wages for nearly 40 million U.S. workers—and establish automatic annual adjustment of the federal minimum wage. Automatic annual adjustment would ensure that the paychecks of the country’s lowest-paid workers are never again left to erode.
Refugees in crisis
Recounting the devastation and loss brought by a violent war in Sierra Leone when he was 16 years old, Dauda Sesay, president of the Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants (LORI), shares in The Advocate how life in America provided his family with a chance to rebuild. After spending nearly 10 years in a refugee camp in Gambia, he arrived in Baton Rouge in 2009 with his family, including his 6-month old daughter. Since then, he has found his voice as an advocate for others in his situation, and raises concerns over the current state of refugee resettlement in America:
Unfortunately, our government’s policies towards refugees do not reflect the compassion and generosity that our community has for refugee families. The refugee resettlement program has been slashed by 75% during the last two years. Refugees who arrive at the border seeking safety are being blocked at every turn. That’s why I’m raising my voice to support the rights of other refugees to receive that second chance at life. We must demand that our elected leaders do the same. Congress must rebuild the life-saving resettlement program by returning resettlement numbers to the historic average of 95,000. It must restore policies that reflect our values and honor our promises to the thousands of refugee families who are looking for a safe place to call home.
Louisiana’s jails house a large and growing number of immigrants, many seeking asylum in the U.S. from violence and danger at home. A report by the federal Office of the Inspector General released earlier this month found “egregious violations of detention standards,” at facilities in Arizona and New Jersey, “including nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues.”