Our Louisiana “Poverty Problem” and the Future

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by Elliott Stonecipher

AEC Foundation Cover 2013Among those who read the article in The Advocate, I doubt any of us was surprised.  Louisiana, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book, ranks 47th among the states and District of Columbia in the well-being of our children.

This once again directs our attention to our “poverty problem.”  The problem in Louisiana, and a few other places, is so intractable as to have long ago numbed us to its meaning and importance.  In fact, it goes far in downright defining our state.  Great Society-Pull Out of Poverty

Many government agencies and their studies routinely track poverty’s innumerable statistical markers and evidence.  In thinking about that fact, a simple question dashed through and out of my thinking, quickly to return and settle:  have we, will we, can we ever solve this problem?  We know and understand the Biblical injunction that “the poor will always be among” us, but to this extent and degree?  Will our state and federal executives and legislators ever get ahead of this?  After all the money spent toward its resolution over the decades, what difference?

In the most recent, 2012, data from the U. S. Census Bureau (SEE here, scroll to Page 3), 15.9% of Americans were living in poverty.  Ranked 50th among the states was Mississippi, with 24.8% of its people in poverty.  New Mexico was 49th with 20.8%, Louisiana 48th with 19.9% in poverty, Arkansas 47th with 19.8%, and Kentucky 46th with 19.4% in poverty.

The Great Society TermsSo, no surprise, Louisiana almost at the very bottom.  Confirmation of what we would have guessed.  Has it always been this way?

We can’t study “always,” but we can, at least, go back to the data immediately before our nation’s “war on poverty” was declared in President Johnson’s Great Society programs in the mid-1960s.  The data are from the decennial U. S. Census (CPH-L-162), 1960 through 2000, along with the 2012 data linked above.

Here are the states ranked at the bottom in percentage of “persons in poverty.”

1960  (National:  22.1%)  

50th:  Mississippi, 54.5%
49th:  Arkansas, 47.5%
48th:  South Carolina, 45.4%
47th:  Alabama, 42.5%
46th:  North Carolina, 40.6%
45th:  Louisiana, 39.5%

1970  (National:  13.7%)  JP-POVERTY-

50th:  Mississippi, 35.4%
49th:  Arkansas, 27.8%
48th:  Louisiana, 26.3%
47th:  Kentucky, 22.9%
46th:  New Mexico, 22.8%

1980  (National:  12.4%)

50th:  Mississippi, 23.9%
49th:  Arkansas, 19.0%
48th:  Alabama, 18.9%
47th:  Louisiana, 18.6%
46th:  Kentucky, 17.6%

1990  (National:  13.1%)

50th:  Mississippi, 25.2%
49th:  Louisiana, 23.6%
48th:  New Mexico, 20.6%
47th:  West Virginia, 19.7%
46th:  Arkansas, 19.1%

2000  (National:  12.4%)

50th:  Mississippi, 19.9%
49th:  Louisiana, 19.6%
48th:  New Mexico, 18.4%
47th,  West Virginia, 17.9%
46th:  Alabama, 16.1%

2012  (National:  15.9%)

50th:  Mississippi, 24.8%
49th:  New Mexico, 20.8%
48th:  Louisiana, 19.9%
47th,  Arkansas, 19.8%
46th:  Kentucky, 19.4%

Great Society Comic BookAs Americans have come to despise and live with, the “war on poverty” is now accompanied by a “war on data” as both sides of our political divide yammer incessantly about just how many trillions we spend on the many dozens of governmental programs in place to move the damnable needle of poverty.  It is my humble opinion that we have spent enough to lock-in both the existence and “size” of the problem with our native population, but it should be expected to expand with immigration, at least initially.

There is a never-ending flood of articles on this subject, and perhaps this down-and-dirty look at the rankings will keep them in context.  Plenty of us know and understand that our history long ago yielded a remarkable, if not permanent, portion of souls in poverty.

Our neighbors in other southern states understand this, too.  At least since 1960, the only American state outside the “South” to be in this low-end ranking is New Mexico.  In the 2012 data, other southern states are beginning to move the wrong way, with Georgia ranked 45th and Alabama 44th.  Outside the south, joining New Mexico, Arizona is now ranked 43rd.  With 11.1% of its residents living in poverty in 1970, California’s incidence is now 17.0%, a steady rise of 53% in four decades.

DATA AHEAD!
DATA AHEAD!

Our poverty problem has always been with us, and there is no suggestion in these data or surrounding facts that such will change.  However, in 1960, our percentage in poverty was 39.5%.  Even given that many who study these data believe the actual percentage was much higher, perhaps everywhere, the 19.9% level in the 2012 means the percentage in poverty in Louisiana has been cut in half.  We now stand at four percentage points higher than the federal incidence.

But, given the relative paucity of government spending in the foreseeable future, it will likely take hard work to hold this progress.

Elliott Stonecipher

Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted.  Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.

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