A rich-poor divide in pre-pandemic Louisiana

A rich-poor divide in pre-pandemic Louisiana

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week paints a discouraging picture for the Pelican State. In 2019 and before the Covid-19 health and economic crisis took hold, poverty remained stubbornly high at 19% and median income rose modestly to $51,073 from the year before. Together, these trends caused an increase in income inequality in a state that has long struggled to provide for the neediest. A new report by LBP’s Stacey Roussel and Neva Butkus breaks down the numbers, and explains what they mean today:  

“This is discouraging news for Louisiana, and shows how important it is to keep fighting for policies that lift up low-income families,” LBP Policy Director Stacey Roussel said.  “Our federal and state policymakers must act decisively to help families and individuals facing today’s extreme levels of hardship, especially those in Black, Latino, and immigrant households by taking action on federal relief now.”

Cortney Sanders of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reviews the findings on the national level and highlights the need for immediate action by policymakers: 

State policymakers aren’t the only ones who need to act. The President and Congress must also move swiftly to provide more relief that matches the extraordinary needs of households and our economy. This includes boosting vital programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and housing assistance, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and allocating more aid to states and local governments to help prevent further layoffs and cuts to public services.


Millionaire tax gives a boost to low income families
Middle- and low income families in New Jersey will get a $500 annual tax rebate under a budget deal announced Thursday. The tax rebate will be financed by a new income income tax rate that would only apply to earnings between $1 and $5 million. Bill Lucia of Route Fifty has the numbers: 

A spokesperson for New Jersey’s Department of the Treasury said the tax increase is expected to bring in $390 million in revenue for the state in fiscal 2021, while the rebate program is expected to cost about $335 million, leaving an estimated difference of about $55 million. Murphy said leftover revenue from the tax increase, after the cost of the tax rebate, would go to areas like schools, health care and housing.


Kids are going hungry—the Senate needs to act
A program designed to help low income families who qualify for free and reduced price lunch is set to expire at the end of the month, if Congress does not take action soon to extend it. P-EBT, which helps families with children who usually get free or reduced-price lunch to afford groceries, was very effective at keeping child hunger at bay when it launched this summer. Louisiana recently re-opened the P-EBT application for families who weren’t able to apply. Karina Piser of Food and Environment Reporting Network reports on how the program helps kids, and on difficulties that families have faced when trying to access the vital benefits: 

“Families have had difficulty accessing information about enrollment, sometimes because they don’t speak English, or don’t have access to technology,” said Danny Mintz, an anti-hunger advocate at the Louisiana Budget Project, a nonprofit that monitors the impact of public policy on low- and moderate-income Louisiana families. “When the information that families enter into the P-EBT application doesn’t exactly match the student information the state has on file, because of typos or other issues, those problems are often very difficult for families to resolve.”

Congress should move quickly to extend and improve P-EBT.


Environmental Injustice
Water, air and land pollution have a negative impact on the physical and economic health of communities, and communities of color routinely bear the highest costs. Local environmental justice group, Rise St. James, presented to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee ahead of a vote on the Environmental Justice For All Act highlighting the toll pollution takes on families and communities in and around Cancer Alley in Louisiana. Allison Winter of Louisiana Illuminator has the story: 

The NAACP estimates that 71% of Black Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards. In Louisiana, Black Americans are 32 percent of the population but represent 80 percent of those living within five miles of a polluting industrial facility, according to the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. Those communities often have worse health outcomes and higher rates of asthma and cancer, problems that have become more pronounced as the COVID-19 respiratory illness has added another threat.


Live event Sept. 22: Racism: Dismantling the System
The LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, in partnership with Southern University’s Nelson Mandela College of Government and Social Sciences, the Louisiana Budget Project, NAACP Louisiana State Conference and LSU Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion is hosting an ongoing series titled “Racism: Dismantling the System.”

The first event in the series, “What is Race? Unpacking Racism in Our Structures & Institutions” will be held virtually via zoom at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd, and will be live-streamed. Click here to register for the event.


Number of the Day
857,894 – The number of Louisianans living at or below the federal poverty level in 2019. (Source: Census Bureau)