The economic case for investing in Louisiana’s people

The economic case for investing in Louisiana’s people

Louisiana’s policymakers have long favored investments in the industries that develop wealth from the state’s natural resources – our soil and our oil – over investments in an educated workforce. There are positive signs that Louisiana can compete in the 21st century economy, such as landing the tech firm DXC Technology in New Orleans. But the state’s failure to invest in policies that lift Louisianans out of poverty and that educate our state’s residents for today’s jobs leave the state poorly situated to attract and develop new employers. As the Advocate’s editorial board explains, there are more investments Louisiana needs to make to develop its human capital. 

[S]uccessive oil-price busts since 1980 have not helped Louisiana’s economy, and the national trends identified by the Fed researchers work against even the larger cities in southeastern Louisiana. Whether it is strengthening our universities in national competition for talent or giving even the poorest families the early-childhood experiences that allow children to flourish in school, Louisiana’s product needs innovation and investment. We won’t be in competition even for mini-Amazons unless our product is competitive at a higher level.


Louisiana’s doesn’t do enough to help its poorest children
Louisiana offers cash assistance to fewer poor families with children than any other state – only 4 in 100 poor families with children receive benefits through the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant. TANF is the primary cash assistance program for families living in poverty, and the benefits  of cash assistance during the early years of a child’s life pay off throughout their lifetimes. But as more states have increased their TANF benefits to help their poorest children, Louisiana remains near the back of the pack, with a maximum benefit level of $240 per month – only a small fraction of the federal poverty line. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines policy recommendations that would allow this vital program to fulfill it’s its core purpose of helping families struggling to meet their basic needs. 


  • States should reinvest federal TANF and state maintenance-of-effort funds in basic assistance or other areas to meet families’ basic needs, starting with providing higher cash grants for participating families. As part of this reinvestment, states should, at a minimum, restore the full value of benefits that has been lost since 1996 and any additional cuts made during the Great Recession, even if that requires several incremental increases over a period of years.
  • States should establish mechanisms to prevent benefits from eroding in the future. Adjusting TANF benefits yearly in step with inflation can maintain families’ purchasing power and help them meet basic needs. This not only improves the lives of parents and children receiving TANF, but also helps local communities, as poor families quickly put that money into the local economy.
  • States should direct any remaining funds toward services and activities that support families that either receive or qualify for assistance. 



The myth of the two-parent home
By far, access to resources like wealth, income and stable and adequate housing has a much bigger impact on the success of black children than family structure. Indeed, new research shows that black children are much less affected by repeated changes in family structure than their white counterparts, partly because they are more likely to live near extended family, and partly because persistent disparities have left them exposed to greater baseline levels of socioeconomic stress. Christina Cross, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of sociology at Harvard, explains in the New York Times why policy attention should not be focused on the deviation from the two-parent household by black families, but on the structural racism that creates and perpetuates inequities. 

My research shows that differences in access to resources largely explain the relationship between family structure and outcomes for black youth. If this is the case, then what deserves policy attention is not black families’ deviation from the two-parent family model but rather structural barriers such as housing segregation and employment discrimination that produce and maintain racialized inequalities in family life.


Troubling report for charter schools
The federal government spent more than half a billion taxpayer dollars on charter schools that never opened, according to a new report from the Network for Public Education. The report, “Still Asleep at the Wheel” explains how over nearly a decade, more than 35% of charter schools funded by the Charter School Program never opened or were shut down. More troubling is that fact that 537 “ghost schools” received more than 11% of the CSP’s budget – more than $45.5 million – despite never opening their doors. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss provides some highlights from the report: 

The disbursement of more than $1 billion during the program’s first decade — from 1995 to 2005 — was never monitored, and there is no complete public record of which schools received the funds because the Education Department never required states to report where the money went. During that period, California received $191 million, Florida $158.4 million and Michigan $64.6 million. The overall rate of failed charter projects from 2006 to 2014 was 37 percent, with some states posting a much higher failure rate. In Iowa, for example, 11 charter schools received grants and 10 failed after receiving a total of $3.66 million.


Number of the Day
-2,140 – Net migration to Texas of those ages 24 and under with a college degree in 2017 – the largest outmigration of Louisiana’s college-educated young people since 2004. (Source: The Advocate