Louisiana’s Low Minimum Wage Is Starving Its Citizens

Peoples Health and Second Harvest Food Bank – Feeding South Louisiana prepared more than 890 Thanksgiving meals and 730 snack bags at the kitchen to distribute to local seniors during the holiday. (Photo Courtesy People’s Health)

Louisiana’s legislators have long fought against raising the state’s minimum wage above the federal $7.25 per hour. Most recently, the state went so far as to vote against allowing larger cities, like New Orleans, the autonomy to set their own minimum wage. But this is a move that is hurting Louisiana’s citizens.

According to a recent report by Hunger Free America, Louisiana is the second most food insecure state in the nation. Nearly 17 percent of Louisiana’s population – 769,648 people – were food insecure from 2016 to 2018. Of those, 256,117 were children. This means that 23 percent of the state’s children are living in food insecure households. The report also found that 12.2 percent of working adults in Louisiana are still food insecure – the third highest rate of food insecurity among working adults in the U.S, and above the national rate of 9.3 percent.

“The bottom line is that the U.S. hunger crisis, is, at its core, an affordability crisis,” Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg said. “The only way to end U.S. hunger is to help Americans better afford food, both by raising wages and ensuring a federal nutrition assistance safety net that is adequately-funded and easy-to-access, including benefits such as SNAP (formerly known as foods stamps); meals on wheels and senior center meals for older Americans; WIC for pregnant women and infants; and school breakfasts, lunches, and summer meals for children. Americans also need to be able to easily access affordable childcare, housing, and health care.”

Raising the national minimum wage, defeating the Trump administration’s attempts to remove food assistance from low-income Americans, and making it easier for low-income and active-duty military families to receive SNAP benefits are just a few of the recommendations in Hunger Free America’s report. You can view the rest of the recommendations here.

Image courtesy of Hunger Free America

The report showed that raising the minimum wage had a significant impact on reducing food insecurity. States with a minimum wage of $10 or above had an average of 8.2 percent of working adults experiencing food insecurity – more than a full percentage point below the national average. In addition, the higher the minimum wage was above the minimum wage, the lower the rate of food insecurity. For example, in Washington, D.C., where the minimum wage is $14 per hour, the rate of food insecurity among working adults was only 6.5 percent. 

In Orleans Parish, the MIT Living Wage Calculator found that a single adult working full time (40 hours per week) with no children needs a minimum of $11.88 per hour in order to support their basic needs. A two-adult household with both parents working full time and a single child would need $13.32 per hour. Currently, under the city’s Living Wage Ordinance, employees working for the city must receive $11.19 per hour. Unfortunately, although Mayor Latoya Cantrell and the majority of the city council support a $15 minimum age (as do 59 percent of Louisiana’s citizens), Louisiana is one of 28 states in the U.S. where local governments are prevented from setting their own minimum wage. 

Although Governor John Bel Edwards has made raising the state’s minimum wage a priority for his second term, the recently-elected Louisiana legislature is even more conservative than the one he had to work with during his first term. That legislature rejected a bill that would have allowed Louisianans to vote on a modest $9 minimum wage. Unfortunately, conservative Republicans consistently oppose a higher minimum wage, making it unlikely Edwards will succeed on this issue.

“It’s unprecedented,” Louisiana Association of Business and Industry head Stephen Waguespack told The Advocate/Times-Picayune. “The Legislature is more conservative, more pro-business than ever before.”

It’s Louisiana’s citizens – particularly the children and elderly – that are paying the price for that conservative, “pro-business” attitude. 

Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Big Easy Magazine. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_

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