More than half of Louisiana families do not earn enough money to cover basic costs, a new report says.
An analysis released Tuesday by Loyola University’s Jesuit Social Research Institute found that 52 percent of Louisiana families with children are not making enough to live “a modest, dignified life.”
Based on those findings, the authors are asking policy makers and community leaders to aid struggling families by taking steps to raise wages, expand the state-level earned income tax credit and improve access to health care.
The institute’s director, the Rev. Fred Kammer, said he and his staff plan to put the report into the hands of key state legislators and members of Congress. Louisiana’s seven Catholic bishops also are taking “a special interest in a living wage this year,” he said.
Kammer noted that there are active discussions about instituting a living wage in all Catholic institutions within the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “We must look at our own house first,” he said.
The report is an attempt to assess what it truly costs families to live in Louisiana. While federal poverty estimates provide one marker of need, Kammer said the institute, after discussions with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, was determined to create another standard, one that captures what it takes for families to live a modest lifestyle.
For the analysis, institute researchers looked at how much it costs Louisiana families in different regions of the state to live a no-frills existence. They included basic necessities — housing, food, health care, child care and transportation — but did not incorporate common expenses such as private-school or college tuition and phone, Internet or cable TV bills.
Researchers wanted to err on the conservative side, said Ali Bustamante, the institute’s economic policy specialist, explaining why the report’s projected education costs were so low that they wouldn’t even pay for some public-school uniforms.
Even so, Bustamante and his team found that to live with real “economic security,” families in Louisiana need income levels three times higher than the federal poverty threshold, on average.
Expenses for the average Louisiana couple with one child added up to $55,428 a year. Families in New Orleans face the highest expenses, totaling $62,040 a year, while families in Baton Rouge can expect to pay $56,616 and those in Lafayette $56,352.
Christina Boudwin, a Houma mother of two children, one with muscular dystrophy, spoke during a news conference held by researchers Tuesday about how her child’s illness has created a financial tipping point in her household.
“Our credit cards are now maxed out,” she said, adding that she worries her husband — who works in the oil industry — may get laid off. But she can’t go back to work because her son requires constant care and because any additional income could cost him his Medicaid coverage.
Kammer and his staff hope the report’s data will provide a helpful metric for policy makers in upcoming debates about Medicaid expansion and about living wages. To keep pace with bills, both parents working full-time in an average two-parent, one-child household in Louisiana would need to make a total of $26.65 an hour, they said.
Parents in urban areas like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette would need to make slightly more.
Louisiana is one of five states without a minimum wage. The report advocates a state minimum wage of $10.10, which it says would give a boost to 359,000 workers.
The report also recommends increasing the earned income tax credit at the state level because it rewards work by giving money back to low-income taxpayers with earned income. Louisiana’s credit, 3.5 percent of the federal credit, is tied with Rhode Island for the lowest in the nation and is far below the national average of 15.2 percent.
Helping people support themselves is in line with the Catholic Church’s teaching, said Rob Gorman, chairman of the interfaith Bread or Stones Campaign, which is working to fight child poverty in Louisiana. The group’s name comes from the Bible, said Gorman, citing the verse: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”
Though the Bread or Stones Campaign is devoted to fighting child poverty, it can’t improve the lives of children without considering the welfare of the entire family, Gorman said.