Louisiana’s people are getting poorer, according to recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

That data was used by the economic news site 24/7 Wall St. to compile a top 10 of the nation’s richest and poorest states. Taking seventh place among the country’s poorest states was Louisiana, 24/7 Wall St. reports.

Louisiana had a 20.4 percent poverty rate in 2011 — 1.7 percentage points higher than in 2010. That makes Louisiana, according to Census Bureau data, the third most poverty-stricken state in the nation.

Statewide, there are about 910,000 people living below the poverty line. For a single person, that equates to an annual income of less than $11,170 a year, or $19,090 a year for a three-person family.

Also on the rise is the number of Louisianans deemed to be living in “deep poverty,” which is half the annual income established for the base poverty line. The number of deeply impoverished residents — about 419,000, or 9.4 percent of the population — climbed 8.1 percentage points from 2010.

The Census Bureau data also shows that more black Louisianans, 34.7 percent, live in poverty, compared to 13.1 percent of the state’s white population.

Of the state’s seven metropolitan areas, Lafayette fared best, experiencing the only year-to-year decrease. The Hub City’s metro area, which includes St. Martin Parish, dropped 1.2 percentage points to finish 2011 with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent.

Yet the average income in Lafayette Parish and statewide dropped in 2010, according to the Census Bureau data.

The average household income in Lafayette Parish — though above the state average — dropped about 10 percentage points last year, from $50,213 in 2010 to $45,172.

At $41,734, Louisiana had the seventh lowest median household income in the nation for 2011. The national median income last year was $50,502.

For Louisiana, that translates into the lowest the median household income has been in almost a decade, says analyst Steve Spires of the Louisiana Budget Project.

Looking at the state’s rate of uninsured residents, which neither increased nor decreased between 2010 and 2011, can be deceiving, Spires says.

Spires says the state’s 25.5 percent of working adults without insurance would have been worse if not for a provision in the health care reform law allowing young adults up to age 26 to remain covered under their parents’ insurance plans.

He credits Medicaid to stabilizing the state’s rate of uninsured children, but he says more and more employers are not providing insurance for workers, the majority of which are unable to receive Medicaid due to what he calls overly “restrictive guidelines:”
Proof of this disparity lies in the fact that one in four working-age adults in Louisiana lacks health insurance, while less than 6 percent of children do. Louisiana has a chance to close this “coverage gap” through federally-funded Medicaid expansion in 2014. Medicaid expansion would offer health coverage to up to 400,000 Louisianans, including 240,000 people who are working. Unfortunately, Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced his intention to block this important health care reform.

This year’s data make it clear that Louisiana is on the wrong economic track and underscores the importance of taking a balanced approach to the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis instead of the “cuts-only” approach that has depleted our education and health-care programs. The growing share of Louisianans living in poverty speaks to the need for services and policies that support working families and provide a pathway out of poverty. Fully funding K-12 education, reversing the recent cuts to higher education, increasing the value of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and childcare tax credit, and expanding Medicaid to low-income adults would all be major improvements that would help the state invest in a more prosperous future.

The number of Louisianans living in poverty also highlights the importance of federal policies, including Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and federal tax credits for low-income workers. As the debate over the future of the federal budget continues, Louisiana’s congressional delegation needs to keep in mind how important these policies are for the well-being of the state’s children, families and the elderly.
Read more from the Louisiana Budget Project here, and click here for more from 24/7 Wall St.

Read the full Census Bureau report here.

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