Louisiana Ranks Below Average on Social Justice Measures Fourth Year in a Row

Big Easy Magazine Staff photo by Jenn Bentley

Louisiana and other Gulf South states ranked below average on measures of social justice for the fourth year in a row according to a report released by the Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) of Loyola University New Orleans.

The annual JustSouth Index ranks all 50 states plus the District of Columbia on quantitative indicators such as poverty, racial disparity, and immigrant exclusion. In the 2019 JustSouth Index released on November 18, Louisiana ranked 50th – ahead of only Mississippi. According to the report, Lousiana boasts the second-largest wage gap between white and minority citizens in the United States and the third-lowest average income among low-income households in the United States. Poor households in Louisiana earn only $11,888 per year on average, with over 63  percent of those households shouldering a high housing cost burden.

The index also shows that 60 years after Ruby Bridges, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne walked through doors to attend two previously all-white elementary schools, nearly 22 percent of Louisiana’s school systems remain segregated.

“We have work still to do,” Orleans Parish School Board President Ethan Ashley acknowledged at an event honoring Bridges earlier this month. “It’s unfortunate that I am unable to tell a young group here that we have made it because we haven’t.”

The JSRI report echoes findings from Measure of America’s Portrait of Louisiana 2020, particularly in regards to education. That study found that while 65 percent of New Orleans white residents have a bachelor’s degree, only 18 percent of the city’s Black residents do. Although white children account for 20 percent of the city’s school-age population, less than 9 percent of white children attend public schools in New Olreans.

This educational disparity doesn’t stop at the high school level, either. Although many native New Orleanians spend their entire lives in Louisiana, few attend the city’s most well-financed higher learning institution, Tulane University. Currently, only 11 percent of Tulane University’s undergraduate students come from Louisiana. That’s something that the university hopes to change beginning next year. The university announced earlier this month that they will begin providing debt-free financial aid for Louisiana high school students whose families make less than $100,000 per year if they are admitted as full-time students next fall.

But for real change to occur, Louisiana’s state and local lawmakers need to fight for change as well, says JSRI economy policy specialist Dennis Kalob.  “While the Gulf South states currently ranked low in the Index, it is well within the power and the duty of leaders and citizens in those states to change the current reality. Improving a state’s ranking on the indicators, dimension indices, and the overall JustSouth Index will require that policymakers, advocates, philanthropists, business, labor and community leaders, and citizens take action to work for policy and program changes that will more justly distribute opportunity and resources in all society.”

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