The percentage of Louisianans living in poverty fell slightly in 2018 to 18.6%, down 1.1% from the previous year according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. This welcome, though modest, drop was largely driven by decreases in child poverty rates, especially children of color. Still, Louisiana remained 5.5% above the national rate of 13.1% in 2018. Stacey Roussel and Neva Butkus of Louisiana Budget Project have the numbers along with policy recommendations to bring down the persistently high rates, including better wages for those earning the least:
While the latest numbers include some encouraging news for Louisiana, they also serve as an annual reminder of how far the state has to go before catching up with the rest of the country.
Poverty, inequality and racial disparities are partly the result of policy decisions made by the people we elect to office. If Louisiana wanted to lift more families out of poverty and into the middle class, it could do so by establishing a statewide minimum wage, and by allowing local communities decide on their own what wage and benefit levels are appropriate.
The 2018 American Community Survey also found that the divide between rich and poor in the United States reached a record high in 2018. Louisiana maintained its ranking as 4th highest in the nation for income inequality, which is largely due to its high concentrations of poverty. Mike Schneider of the Associated Press reports on the role low wages play in keeping inequality high even amid strong economic growth:
“We’ve had a period of sustained economic growth, and there are winners and losers. The winners tend to be at the top,” [Donna] Ginther said. “Even though we are at full employment, wages really haven’t gone up much in the recovery.”
LBP guide to the constitutional amendments
Voters will find four constitutional amendments on their Oct. 12 primary ballot. The Louisiana Budget Project analyzes this year’s proposals, three of which deal with tax policy. Executive Director Jan Moller provides an overview:
(Four amendments is) a fairly typical number for a statewide election year (The notable exception was 2003, when there were 15 proposed amendments on the ballot). This year’s crop includes tax breaks for the offshore energy industry, a reallocation of money from Louisiana’s share of the 1999 tobacco settlement, a plan to expand the authority of the state Board of Tax Appeals, and tax exemptions for affordable housing development in New Orleans.
In a letter to The Advocate, Dr. Steven Zuckerman of Baton Rouge explains his support for Amendment 4 (dealing with affordable housing in New Orleans) and reminds readers why good housing matters to healthy communities:
It is time we stop thinking of health care merely as the interactions between our doctors and our pharmacists. In truth, good health care begins at home, and can quite often be linked even to the buildings we live in. From the location of your residence, to the quality of the building, to even the amount of rent paid, these things have very real impacts on personal health. Health is housing.
The primary election is Oct. 12. Early voting starts tomorrow.
Federal budget winners and losers
As federal budget negotiations continue, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby has proposed a plan that jeopardizes vital services for-low income Americans. Richard Kogan of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities provides details, including the need for more, not less, funding for a vital housing program:
Funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation would be cut by 1.1 percent, or about $900 million, below the inflation-adjusted 2019 level. The bill’s two biggest programs help 3.4 million seniors, families with children, and other low-income households pay rent and make ends meet. Because rents are expected to grow faster than the consumer price index overall, inflation-adjusted funding must rise, not fall, to prevent cuts in the number of households receiving rental assistance in 2020. But to provide the necessary increase for housing assistance, the Senate would need to cut transportation programs or other HUD programs by a noticeable amount.
Shopping for healthcare in America
As the cost of health insurance continues to rise, high-deductible insurance plans are becoming more popular. The plans were promoted as a way to incentivize people to look for the most affordable healthcare options. The downside comes when people get sick and need to use their plans, with the result that patients become overburdened with medical bills that far exceed what they expected to pay. Noam N. Levey of the Los Angeles Times tracks the growth in these plans, and the cost:
Deductibles have more than tripled over the last decade for people who get insurance through their jobs, but the promised consumer revolution never materialized. Instead, Americans have been left shopping in the dark and increasingly struggling with medical bills they can’t afford, a Times examination of job-based health insurance shows. These price hikes are crushing insured Americans: 1 in 6 workers with job-based benefits in the Times/Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that they had to make a “difficult sacrifice” in the past year to pay for healthcare, such as cutting back on food and other essentials.
Number of the Day:
30 percent – Poverty rate for black Louisianans in 2018, down from 33.1% in 2017. Nationally, the black poverty rate was 22.5% in 2018. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)