The New York Times’ opinion section is publishing a series of essays that explore the psychology of poverty and social class in America. The latest installment comes from Bertrand Cooper, a Los Angeles-based writer who details his complicated relationship with food that sprung from a childhood where he often went hungry.
Escaping poverty is a question of how long you can go without pleasure. If you were raised with money, going without pleasure might mean something like canceling your Netflix subscription or purchasing a slightly older car. What I mean by pleasure is food, clothing and shelter. I mean tolerating the daily denial of basic necessities without lashing out in ways that will get you put in a box. Going without food is the hardest. The urban sociologist William Julius Wilson once said that what he distinctly remembered about growing up in rural poverty was hunger. Wilson grew up Black and poor in a family of seven during the 1940s. That a survivor of Jim Crow and its racist horrors recalls hunger as a defining torment says a lot.
Poverty in Louisiana: An LBP Chartbook
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 maternal mortality crisis
Women in Louisiana are much more likely to die during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth than women in other states. Every few months a committee of doctors, doulas, epidemiologists and public health experts meets to review these deaths and figure out how they happened. The Times-Picayune’s Emily Woodruff reports that accidental overdoses, homicide, car crashes and heart conditions are the most common cause of death among the 182 maternal deaths that happened between 2017 and 2019:
Louisiana has gained national attention for its high rate of deaths among pregnant women. But because the state has changed its reporting methods to try to capture more of the deaths over a longer period of time, the data paint a murky picture of progress. … In a previous report from 2011 to 2016, the committee identified 59 deaths in Louisiana women that occurred shortly after giving birth. At the peak, that translated to 78 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, over three times the national average. That report focused on pregnancy-related deaths.
Infrastructure bill brings more money and criticism
Sen. Bill Cassidy was the only GOP member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation to vote for the $1.5 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Now that money from the new law is starting to flow to states, Cassidy’s colleagues are lining up to share credit. While Cassidy was announcing news on Monday that Louisiana had received an additional $46 million for elevating structures out of flood plains, Reps. Clay Higgins and Garret Graves continued to defend their “no” votes. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports:
In announcing the $46 million appropriation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project, Higgins stated: “While I opposed the infrastructure bill in its totality, there are elements within the bill that my office fully supports. We have long prioritized funding for water management and storm mitigation efforts, including the Southwest Coastal Louisiana project.” He added, “I secured language in the 2018 Water Resources bill prioritizing this project for construction.” Graves criticized Infrastructure Act’s authorization, noting that nearly half of the $840 million allocation went to projects in Michigan and California. With 10 million residents, Michigan has twice as many people as Louisiana’s 4.7 million and with 39.5 million people California is about nine times larger than Louisiana.
Number of the Day
25.6 million – Number of people that were lifted out of poverty by traditional anti-poverty programs and emergency federal relief in 2021 amid the Covid-19 recession. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau via LBP)