New Orleans Named One of America’s Neediest Cities

Photo by Antrell Williams, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had wide-reaching consequences on cities across the United States. However, cities with service-industry economies that rely on tourism for their main income – such as New Orleans – have been the hardest hit.

In a report comparing 180 U.S. cities based on key indicators of economic disadvantage (including child poverty, food insecurity, and uninsured), New Orleans ranked as the ninth neediest city in the country. That’s somewhat surprising given the city’s size when compared to other cities in the top 10 – Detroit, MI (1); Los Angeles, CA (6), and Baltimore, MD (8) all ranked in the top 10.

Source: WalletHub

The city’s ranking makes more sense, however, when you consider the metrics. The study assigned points in two categories: 60 points to economic well-being, and 40 points to health and safety. However, in the economic well-being category, metrics such as a city’s child poverty rate, adult poverty rate, and homelessness rate were given triple weight. Orleans Parish has a child poverty rate of 33.6 percent, and 23.9 percent face food insecurity, according to the nonprofit Save the Children. Add to that the fact that healthcare discrimination is pervasive across New Orleans, and it becomes much easier to see how experts came up with their rankings.

With Sen. Joe Manchin opposing the Biden administration’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda, many New Orleans families may face an even larger struggle in 2022. The bill contained a provision that would have extended the enhanced child tax credit, which lifted nearly 10 million children out of poverty countrywide. The credit was increased from $2,000 to $3,000 and provided a $600 bonus for children under the age of 6. In July, families across the country began receiving direct deposits of $300 for children under 6 and $250 for children ages 6 to 17.

Studies showed that families used those payments to pay their bills, buy food, and even pay for childcare so parents could work more hours. The Urban Institute estimated that keeping the credit beyond 2021 would have reduced child poverty from 14.2 percent to 8.4 percent nationwide.

The Child Tax Credit isn’t the only government intervention that experts believe could help. “To some extent, there is a broad range of government policies that make a difference in the lives of low-income families. Earned Income Tax Credit, Head Start, Pell Grant, Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program/Food Stamps, and Social Security, and Housing Choice Voucher/Section 8 are some of them,” said Rigaud Joseph, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Research & Internship Coordinator, Project Rebound, at California State University San Bernardino’s College of Social & Behavioral Sciences.

However, the way government programs are currently designed tends to become part of the problem, rather than a solution, Joseph says. “These programs, by design, do not lead to economic self-sufficiency because their eligibility criteria discourage work and savings by creating what social welfare experts call ‘benefits cliff’—the phenomenon by which families in poverty become worse off financially by taking low-paying jobs that would yet proportionally disqualify them for public benefits based on their income. In other words, working families receive reduced government benefits even though what they earn is not enough to cover all of their expenses.”

You can read the full study here.

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