More than 4 in 10 Louisianans reported anxiety and depression symptoms in a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey — the highest in the nation. It comes as no surprise, based on our research.

Louisiana saw the largest job loss in the South, losing 175,500 jobs since the pandemic began, an 8.8% fall from February 2020. Also the highest in the South was Louisiana’s unemployment rate at 6.2%. Yet, the state's unemployment benefits do not cover the basic cost of living in any of our 64 parishes. The maximum benefit is $247 a week ($6.88 an hour), while minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour. Even babysitters earn more — averaging $13 an hour around here.

The federal government unquestionably helped Louisianans make ends meet. Along with stimulus checks and child tax credits, federal dollars more than doubled unemployment benefits to struggling Louisianans at least through July.

However, federal assistance funneled through the state and localities has moved slowly. When eviction restrictions expired in August, Louisiana had barely spent 25% of Emergency Rental Assistance funds. Unsurprising, in September, 39% of Louisiana residents behind on rent or mortgage feared eviction or foreclosure.

Climate change and frequent severe weather events are compounding these crises for Louisiana families. According to FEMA, since March 2020, every parish has suffered more than ten natural weather disasters. In September, more than one in seven Louisiana families went hungry — again, the highest in the region.

Most school, work, social, or even religious gatherings shifted online in the past 20 months. This, while one in five Louisiana families lacks internet access or a computer. Also, more than half of the state’s parishes are "news deserts," with either a thinly staffed daily, just a weekly, or no newspaper at all.

The combination of news deserts and limited internet access critically jeopardizes our democracy. It leaves us prey to political misinformation — and more gravely, it leaves us without accurate health information.

Now is the moment to foster needed change, both through fair redistricting and equitable spending of American Rescue Plan funds. Redrawing district lines will make a tremendous difference in the services available to our Louisiana families — while equitably spending ARP funds for a community-sustaining recovery could transform these poor outcomes in our health, food security, and employment.

We applaud the city of New Orleans on passing the ARP Model Resolution, placing community input and equity at the forefront of its ARP planning. The more Louisiana governments we have picking up the torch, the more fuel we have to bring Louisiana back to her "laissez bon temps rouler" character.

These are rough numbers and even rougher times, worse here than elsewhere in the South. Nonetheless, we will continue to challenge local leaders to implement equitable and sound policies throughout our state — a place where resiliency runs deep.

Allison Plyer is chief demographer at The Data Center of Southeast Louisiana, and co-author of the "Pandemic to Prosperity" report series for which these metrics were compiled. Sarah Beth Gehl is research director of the Southern Economic Advancement Project.