Why aren’t the governor’s candidates debating poverty?

By Robert Mann

If there is an issue more important to Louisiana’s future than our state’s crippling, chronic poverty, I can’t imagine it. Few states have higher rates of poor people than Louisiana – and generation after generation of our children are consigned by fate and cruel or misguided policies to lives of hopeless deprivation.

You’d think that a governor’s race would generate a lively debate over how to improve those lives. Well, you’d be wrong. Poverty is a crisis the candidates don’t discuss. And, trust me, if they aren’t talking about it now, don’t expect much after one of them is elected.

If we accepted the compelling research that suggests a child born into poverty is likely to remain poor for life (in other words, the idea of social mobility is largely a myth in the United States), perhaps we would be more eager to address the problem. Instead, we seem resigned to poverty’s cruel reality. In other words, we are content with a virtual caste system in which being poor is an inheritance, not a scandal.

Louisiana has the nation’s third-highest poverty rate, according to the latest (2013) figures from the American Community Survey. As the Louisiana Budget Project (LBP) put it last September, “Nearly one in five Louisianans — 888,019 people, or 19.8 percent of the population — lived below the federal poverty line [in 2013].”

Children are poverty’s worst victims. Last December, NOLA.com | Times-Picayune reporter Emily Lane wrote a disturbing story about the endemic poverty that afflicts Louisiana’s youth. U.S. Census Bureau data show, Lane wrote, that Louisiana has the fourth-highest poverty rate among school-age children – 27 percent. In Orleans Parish, it’s 39 percent. Two northeast Louisiana parishes, East Carroll and Madison, had stunning child poverty rates of 58 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

Those same Census data show that Louisiana is 49th in income inequality. Put another way, according to the Center for American Progress, “The share of income going to the top 20 percent of households in Louisiana was 18.5 times that going to the bottom 20 percent of households in 2013.”

Speaking of inequality, it’s not bad enough just to be poor in Louisiana. You can also count on state and local governments taxing you twice as much as the wealthy. A 2013 study of states by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that Louisiana families earning less than $16,000 a year paid an average of 10.6 percent of their income in state and local sales, property and income taxes. The same taxes accounted for only 4.6 percent of income for families earning $418,000 or more.

“For far too long, state government has focused on improving the lot of those who already are doing well,” the LBP’s Director Jan Moller told me. “The focus needs to return to helping those who need a hand up – or a stronger safety net to keep from falling through the cracks.”

So, what do the gubernatorial candidates say about our scourge of poverty? Not much.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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8 Responses to Why aren’t the governor’s candidates debating poverty?

  1. Stephen Winham says:

    Answers to Headline: 1. Because it is much easier to ignore it and hope it will go away on its own, perhaps via survival of the fittest and/or out-migration. 2. Because they believe nobody who votes cares and poor people don’t vote. 3. Because they all want to stick to platitudes that provide happy pap to the masses. 4. All of the above.

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  2. I second the “all of the above” comments of Stephen Winham! Not just because you are my dear pal, Bob, but expressing my completely unbiased, objective opinion as a member of the “company of scholars,” you are an exceptionally-gifted writer/author and consummate fact-checking journalist, caring teacher/mentor [insert here CV way too extensive for this box!]. Therefore, since working as an Editor was one my many jobs that paid the bills in grad school [and my wife still calls me The Tweak-Meister], seeing your Headline about “Governor’s Candidates” immediately captured my rapt attention. First, because it convinced me that you absolutely would be able to put the word “gubernatorial” [AND spell it with the errant R] in context and that using “Gubernatorial Candidates” [the designation consistently used incorrectly by all your sisters and brothers in the news business] as a convenience actually would have indicated a group of governors [such as several in the Red Pool] who are candidates for something, such as becoming POTUS. Ok now, since you can stick that deft cyber pen/sword into the best and worst of them, while “touching the turban” at the same time [and can take it like a champ yourself] I offer this humble, yet impudent observation: Even “Governor’s Candidates” is not a substitute for the space required to write “Candidates for Governor.” Either the star investigative reporter side of you realized the number of characters you could fit in to limited space and went into “Caption Mode” [I get that] OR–ha! your truly slyly-witty self pulled a zinger that I don’t think any of them would get. Knowing how you feel about the “Emperor Who Has No Clothes,” “Governor’s Candidates” actually would mean a group of candidates selected by “He Who Shall Remain Nameless/Lame Duck.” If the latter is your intent, it is self-explanatory why they would ignore poverty as an issue in Louisiana.

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    • Robert Mann says:

      Dick, thanks for the kind words. As for the headline, you credit me with too much thought. I suppose “candidates for governor” is the only correct way to do it, but that’s too long for a headline. 😉

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  3. JonTB says:

    The Republican controlled U.S. House and Senate has no focused concern on poverty in the U.S. as demonstrated by their obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting Welfare, the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid and Social Security along with virtually anything that might provide the poor or lower middle class with any kind of advantage to break out of where they are. They are focused on a trickle-down economy as long as most or all of it doesn’t trickle down to the poor. Their thought is the churches can take care of the poor. Louisiana’s problem is exacerbated by the fact that this state is totally dominated by conservatives, who focus on the wealthy and upper class. Jindal has so devastated the state that there are now many other issues that need to be dealt with, particularly education, and the candidates can easily focus on them.

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  4. refchef says:

    “…children are consigned… to lives of hopeless depravation.” Did you REALLY mean to say this or were you a victim of spellcheck?

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  5. Milford Fryer says:

    Bob, I must confess sometimes I think you write at the top of your lungs in ways that might reduce your effectiveness, but this is an issue that can’t be stressed enough. East Carroll Parish has been listed from time to time as the poorest county in America. Think about that. But the reason nobody does anything about it is reflected in the ridiculous comments posted in reaction to your column. To quote an old joke, are these comments a result of ignorance or apathy, they don’t know and they don’t care. The notion that people like being poor, unhealthy and unemployed is so utterly stupid on its face as to defy logic, yet the people who utter such vile things are the ones who believe they have cornered the market on logic. And the people who hold the poor in such disdain are the ones in open assault on public education, a key in alleviating the problem. And news flash, dumbos, Louisiana has a pretty decent system of schools that teach blue collar skills. But it’s so much easier to blather hatred and misinformation than it is to actually examine the problem, understand the issues, and so something about them.. If we had qualified workers, we might actually draw some major manufacturers to the state. Maybe some of the folks making such uninformed comments could use a little remedial education, but they won’t dare challenge their entrenched ignorance. Euphemistically, if everyone lit a candle of progress, our future would be bright indeed. They don’t even realize how much brighter their own futures would be if we stimulated the economy by pushing the poor up the economic ladder.

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