Education is the path out of poverty

Education is the path out of poverty

More than half (57%) of Louisiana children are growing up in financial hardship – either below the federal poverty line or close enough to the line that their families struggle to afford basic necessities. The problem is significant for Louisianans of all racial identities, but considerably worse for Black children, three-fourths of whom are living in hardship compared to 42% of white kids. As Charmaine Caccioppi and Patty Riddlebarger note in a letter to The Advocate, traditional poverty measures severely undercount the number of kids living in financial hardship, excluding many from critical income-based programs that provide help with housing, food and other necessities. That’s one more reason why it’s so important for legislators to invest in early care and education programs. 

Access to early childhood education helps children develop the foundational skills needed to succeed in school and allows parents to work. Children with access to high-quality early childhood education are more likely to obtain more education and have higher lifetime earnings, and are less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Lawmakers have the chance to make meaningful investments to expand early childhood education access for low-income families this session. As members of the Ready Louisiana Coalition, we urge legislators to appropriate $94 million to these programs to support Louisiana’s children, families and economy.

Footnote: The $94 million is just a downpayment on the $1.2 billion per year that’s needed to ensure every Louisiana child, 0-3, has access to high-quality early care programming. Instead of rushing to cut taxes, legislators should be thinking about ways to raise revenue to support that need during next year’s fiscal session. 

An “Opportunity Youth” income pilot 
A private pilot program is providing 125 New Orleans youth, age 16 to 24, with $350 per month for 10 months as part of a national effort to make the case for a guaranteed basic income. The Times-Picayune’s Ben Meyers reports that the program is being financed by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, an advocacy organization backed by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, and is aimed at “opportunity youth” – teens and young adults who are disconnected from school and work. 

Josh Cox, the administration’s director for strategic initiatives, said New Orleans was home to 7,000 such individuals, known in policy circles as “opportunity youth,” before the coronavirus pandemic. “The pandemic only exacerbated that, as lots of schools had a tough time reaching out to kids through virtual and remote learning,” Cox said in a recent interview. “We decided that it made perfect sense to try to use this as a means of connecting those young people who have been disconnected from work and school.” 

To learn more about programs available to help young people, read Reconnecting Louisiana’s Opportunity Youth, a report by LBP policy analyst Jackson Voss. 

Recognize moms by expanding the Child Tax Credit 
Mothers carried a disproportionate share of the additional caretaking responsibilities created by the pandemic. In June 2021, more than 6 million women reported not working because they were caring for children not in school or child care, compared to only 1 million men. The expanded Child Tax Credit payments included in the American Rescue Plan Act was a lifeline for moms, as families used the extra money on basic needs such as food, clothing and utilities. But families lost this critical support when Congress failed to extend the credit in December, and the results were stark: 3.7 million children fell back below the poverty line in January after the credit was taken away. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Stephanie Hingtgen writes that Mother’s Day is a perfect time for Congress to expand the credit: 

The most important feature of the Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit expansion was its “full refundability” provision, which made the full credit available to an estimated 12 million mothers and 27 million children whose families previously were eligible for no credit or less than $2,000 per child because their earnings were too low. This included roughly half of all Black and Latino children and about half of children who live in rural areas. … Making the credit fully refundable again would reduce child poverty by roughly 20 percent, lifting an estimated 2 million children above the poverty line, and help millions of others.

Unfortunately, without the expansion the payments don’t always reach the families that need them most, as the Washington Post’s Ashley Nunes explains:

Single mothers were consistently less likely to receive the full benefit than were single fathers and married couples. That’s because single mothers earn far less than single fathers, often below the $24,000 cap, making them less likely to get the full benefit. What’s more, single mothers typically claim more children as dependents than do single fathers. For each additional child, single mothers are likely to be bringing in only benefits — which means each child results in a larger financial net loss. Our study shows that over 1.5 million parents — 80 percent of whom are women — may be excluded from the full child tax credit despite working. At the current federal minimum wage, we estimate that a single parent would have to work over 63 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to claim the full benefit. What’s more, we find that the income required to claim the full benefit — $24,000 — far exceeds the poverty threshold ($18,677 for a single-parent family in 2021), set by the Census Bureau.

Roadblocks to jury reform 
Louisiana voters in 2018 overwhelmingly overturned a Jim Crow law that allowed people to be convicted of crimes even when some jurors did not believe they were guilty. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this change did not affect earlier split-jury convictions, leaving as many as 1,500 people in Louisiana imprisoned on divided verdicts. A bill that advanced out of a state House committee on Thursday would give them an opportunity to be freed. But as The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains, advocates for incarcerated people took issue with a commission that Rep. Randal Gaines’ House Bill 744 creates. 

“I can tell you right now our input hasn’t been heard,” testified Will Harrell, policy counsel at Voice of the Experienced, a New Orleans-based group that advocates on behalf of the formerly incarcerated. VOTE wasn’t asked and had issues with the proposed procedure. For one thing, the proposed five-member commission would have to all agree if the inmate could become eligible for parole after an exhaustive review of the case. Months would pass before the committee could be set up and become fully operational.

Number of the Day
12 million
– Number of mothers with little to no family earnings who would qualify for a full $2,000-per-child credit if the existing Child Tax Credit was made fully refundable (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)