In the “good old days,” elections for Louisiana governor and other offices were about standing up for the “little guy,” the “working man,” the “regular folk.” Who knew that our leaders — like none other than “The Kingfish” Huey Long — were so sophisticated back then? As it turns out, they were not just politically savvy but ahead of the times in terms of their policy ideas, too.
Today, we know that helping out the “little guy” isn’t just good politics — it’s good for all of us. Based on research, we know that investing in policies like raising the Earned Income Tax Credit encourages work, puts more money in the pockets of working families and helps get families on a better path.
We know that cash assistance to struggling families doesn’t corrupt the poor but leads to tangible benefits like better nutrition, education and future earning potential for children. We know that investing in early childhood development and education leads to tangible improvements in educational and career success and pays social dividends of 7-to-1 or more in reduced expenditures on criminal justice, remedial education and other social programs later. Science even shows us that putting a few extra dollars in the parents’ pockets can actually increase the brain size of their children.
Politicians of old didn’t have this rich data. They focused their campaigns on the poor and working class because it was simply good politics. They were smart enough to understand that the majority of their constituents were among the poor and working class, and they needed to appeal to their interests to get elected and re-elected.
What happened to that focus? This election cycle, I haven’t heard much talk about poverty or working-class issues. Have we all gotten rich? The answer to that is clearly no. According to a recent report by the Louisiana Budget Project, the median wage in Louisiana in 2014 stands at just $15.63 an hour or just over $32,000 a year.
So why aren’t we hearing more about the “working man” from our politicians these days? It could be that no one wants to talk about a subject that is both unpopular and intractable, or it could be that our political campaigns have become so focused on rich donors that the politicians have forgotten who they really work for.
Regardless, the people of Louisiana — the vast majority of whom are either poor or working class — need leaders who will listen to them, pay attention to the data and make good decisions that will not only help “regular folk” and their children but will strengthen our state as a whole.
board president, Louisiana Budget Project