The gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States grew last year to its highest level in more than 50 years of tracking income inequality, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Sept. 26.
Louisiana is among the states with the most income inequality, according to the report, though state-by-state data has yet to be released.
Income inequality in the U.S. expanded from 2017 to 2018, with several heartland states among the leaders of the increase, even though several wealthy coastal states still had the most inequality overall, according to the figures.
The areas with the most income inequality last year were coastal regions with large amounts of wealth—the District of Columbia, New York and Connecticut—as well as areas with great poverty: Puerto Rico and Louisiana.
However, after reviewing the Census figures, the Louisiana Budget Project reported the percentage of Louisianans living in poverty decreased slightly in 2018 from the previous year. “Despite these welcome improvements, Louisiana continues to experience poverty at rates far above the nation as a whole, and most of the South,” said Ian Moller, LBP executive director.
According to LBP analysis Stacey Rousell, these findings serve as an annual reminder of how far the state has to go before catching up with the rest of the country.
“Poverty, inequality and racial disparities are partly the result of policy decisions made by the people we elect to office. If Louisiana wanted to lift more families out of poverty and into the middle class, it could do so by establishing a statewide minimum wage, and by allowing local communities decide on their own what wage and benefit levels are appropriate,” Rousell wrote.
“Increased investments in education – from high-quality early care and education for the youngest children, to more need-based financial aid for students who need help paying for college – also would help level the playing field and create more opportunities for low-income families and people of color. A comprehensive paid leave program could ensure that moms can spend time with their newborns, and adults can take time away from work to care for themselves or an ailing family member without facing financial catastrophe.
Continued investments in the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and ensuring access to safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, helps keep millions of working families from slipping below the poverty line and into deep poverty. But these programs, too, can be strengthened at the state and federal level.”