Louisiana had the nation’s highest poverty rate in 2021, and the state’s economy continued to reflect deep racial disparities. Child poverty remained stubbornly entrenched, and median household income fell.
But the state’s uninsured rate fell to a record low, and so did the rate of economic hardship when the effects of federal and state safety-net programs are taken into account.
The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau paints a complicated picture of how Louisianans fared during the Covid-19 pandemic. A new chartbook by LBP’s Deputy Executive Director, Stacey Roussel, analyzes the data and explains why it matters.
“The Census numbers really tell us two important stories about Louisiana,” Roussel said. “They show us the critical role that Medicaid, SNAP, and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits have played in helping families make ends meet during a difficult time. But they also show how far we still have to go to ensure that every Louisianan, regardless of their race or ZIP code, has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Louisiana’s poverty rate spiked to 19.6% in 2021, compared to 19% in 2019. Median household income decreased from $54,126 (adjusted to 2021 dollars) to $52,087 over the same time span. More than 1 in 4 Louisiana children – 26.7% – lived below the poverty line, the second-highest rate in America.
But Louisiana’s uninsured rate in 2021 fell to its record low of 7.6%, largely due to the expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income adults and the enrollment protections put in place during the pandemic. This means more Louisianans have the ability to see a doctor when they get sick and are protected from the catastrophic costs of uninsured care.
And the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which provides a clearer picture of the impact of pandemic-related federal aid and traditional anti-poverty programs on Louisiana families, fell to 11.7% in 2021 – down from 16.2% before the pandemic.
But there is reason to believe that some of these gains could be short-lived. The historic expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit, which spawned an historic reduction in child poverty, was allowed to expire last year. When the public health emergency ends, the state will need to unwind the Medicaid rolls and ensure eligible people stay enrolled. State policymakers, meanwhile, can help struggling families by raising the minimum wage, expanding the state EITC and establishing a state CTC and reforming the state tax structure to ensure that it raises adequate revenue each year.
“Louisiana can – and should – build a strong, more equitable economy that works for everyone,” Roussel said.