A new report issued last month by Loyola University New Orleans’ Jesuit Social Research Institute reveals that Louisiana ranks lowest in the U.S. on the JustSouth Index, a project that evaluates levels of social justice in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The JustSouth Index measures and compares states’ performance on nine indicators that fall under the dimensions of poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion, three of the most challenging issues facing the Gulf South today.
According to the report, the other four Gulf South states that also ranked low were Mississippi at 50th position, Texas at 49th, Alabama at 48th and Florida in 41st position. The JustSouth Index established a measure of social justice to provide policymakers, employers and residents a better understanding of how residents of states in the Gulf South are doing as regard the basic rights and needs of every person.
Fr. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D., executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute said, “Our purposes are to educate the people of this region and to point out how we together can make the kind of changes that promote far greater social justice, equity, and inclusion for all of us who live here.”
Key findings in Louisiana include:
• The average Louisiana household income for lowest 25 percent was just $11,156 per year in 2014. They compare this with the national average of $15,281 per year and $20,956 per year in New Hampshire, the state that ranked highest on that indicator.
• Nine in ten Louisiana households that are in the lowest 25 percent income bracket are renting their home and spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent.
• Louisiana has the highest gap in annual earnings between white and minority workers of similar age, level of education, and occupation. Minority workers in Louisiana earn 21 percent less than their white counterparts when age, education, and job type are all considered. This compares to a national average of an 8.8 percent gap.
• More than 21.5 percent of immigrant youth ages 18 to 25 in Louisiana are considered “disconnected youth.” This means that they are not enrolled in school or regularly employed.
• States that have raised the minimum wage, implemented a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), expanded Medicaid eligibility, and invested in housing assistance outperformed states that have not. Louisiana has begun a very modest state EITC and taken the initial steps to expand Medicaid eligibility. It is imperative that the state lawmakers continue efforts to address economic and social injustices.
Recommendations for improving social justice and equity in Louisiana include: 1) raise the minimum wage; 2) strengthen investments in child care assistance and create a state Earned Income Tax Credit; 3) create state and local incentives for the development of affordable housing and investing state funds in low-income housing assistance; 4) improve access to English as a Second Language (ESL) and adult education classes; 5) revisit policies that improved integration of schools in the 1970's and 1980's; 6) increase resources to schools that serve primarily minority and immigrant students, and 7) combat employment discrimination and workers’ rights violations through enhanced enforcement efforts by federal, state, and nonprofit entities.
“Yes, Louisiana is last on this index, but we didn’t set it up to do that,” Fr. Kammer said. “We developed the index first and then waited for the (U.S.) census data in October and then plugged in the numbers. Louisiana ended up at the bottom. Hopefully, it might be different in the future.”
If we Christians apply the basic gospel principal of loving our neighbor to our government and our economy, we can make positive changes. We need to elect leaders who have everyone’s best interest at heart. When we rank last, the only way is up.
Posted on Fri, April 8, 2016
by The Lafourche Gazette