Louisiana is ranked 49th in the nation for the overall well-being of its children and 50th for their economic well-being, according to a new report.
Agenda for Children, a New Orleans-based nonprofit, created the report with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“Despite all appearances to the contrary, this is not yet another report about Louisiana being at the top of every bad list and at the bottom of every good list,” the report says.
The report offers policy suggestions that Agenda for Children believes could improve Louisiana’s showing on each of the report’s 16 indicators. Many of the proposals would raise costs for taxpayers or the private sector, and some changes already have been rejected by state lawmakers.
For example, the report recommends establishing a state minimum wage that’s higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, and indexing the state minimum to rise with inflation. Research shows a higher minimum wage can reduce child poverty, the report’s authors say. Agenda for Children further suggests allowing local jurisdictions to set their own minimum wages above the state level.
But despite urging from Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Legislature repeatedly has declined to establish a state minimum wage. Skeptics say raising the minimum wage actually could hurt the poor by driving up product costs and making it more expensive to hire and retain low-skilled workers, leading to job and benefit cuts and hour reductions.
Other proposals include:
- Expanding Louisiana’s Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Establishing 12 weeks of paid family leave for all employees.
- Offer incentives to employers who hire people who have been unemployed for a long time or have disabilities or criminal records.
- Increase subsidies for affordable housing.
- Increase funding for need-based scholarships.
- Expand access to apprenticeship and GED programs.
- Establish programs to improve job skills and connect young people to employment.
- Boost funding for early childhood care and education. This goal seems to have bipartisan support at the State Capitol.
- Invest more in teacher preparation and raise teacher pay. Teachers got a $1,000 state-funded raise last year, though average pay remains well below the southern regional average.
Edwards has pledged to work toward raising teacher pay at least to the regional average. His current budget proposal doesn’t dedicate money to raises, though it does call for almost $40 million in new K-12 education spending that districts could spend on salary increases.
The full Kids Count report can be accessed here.