Stretching to northeast Louisiana through central parts of the state then southwest and into the capitol region, the steady grip of poverty is the primary concern of Louisiana’s working residents and youth.
During a series of listening sessions conducted statewide residents told partners with the Louisiana Building Economic Security Together, or LABEST, coalition that policies on housing, education, small business lending, child support arrears, predatory lending, and electoral processes are prohibiting citizens from accessing or maintaining personal income and wealth.
“We are literary in a cycle of failure,” one New Orleans resident said during a November session held with the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association. Nearly everyone in the room nodded, clapped quietly or said “yeah” in agreement.
Facilitators of small group discussions challenged them to investigate solutions. They identiﬁed a dozen, but the most critical, they agreed, was to have a uniﬁed community organization representing various neighborhood associations that could be vocal in addressing elected ofﬁcials.
They said they needed advocacy training and realistic strategies to help the community rebuild schools, attract working people, and open business that will bring good paying jobs.Financial literacy and small business sustainability were concerns of residents in southwest andthe capital region who met with the SWLA Economic Development Alliance in Lake Charles and Center in Opelousas,respectively.
Entrepreneurs spoke up against lenders’ policies that they said seem to allow for discrimination and resistance to their growth. Home owners said the lack of ﬁ nancial literacy makes it difﬁcult to keep their homes out of foreclosures, while workers said it’s difﬁcult to manage bills without falling into the clutch of predatory lenders.
Working fathers were most the most vocal about the impact of arrears and mounting child support fees on their ability to parent and stay above debt.
Youth and adults in Northeast Louisiana met met with The Wellspring in Monroe. They spoke up questioning the finanical state of there schools and it’s impact on preparing them to be successful students.
“How can we better if no one is teaching us better?” a high school student asked. “Before today we didn’t know about credit and savings (accounts). Our parents don’t know this.”
They agreed the region’s extreme poverty and high teen pregnancy rates were the results of education policies that allowed poor performance and social service policies that once helped young mothers stay in school.
“We have the voice,” said a Pointe Coupee resident. “And we believe the advocacy work with a change to the policies and practices that pre- vent us from increasing wealth.” said a Point Coupee Resident. ” And we believe the advocacy work with LABEST will help us get our leader attention and change some things”
For LABEST organizers and regional partners that is the goal.
“We will use what we’ve heard to galvanize advocates, policy makers, non-profits and community leaders; to engage; educate and empower them. Everyone needs to be civically engaged.”, said LABEST Director Joyce James. ” The sessions were about answering questions and hearing concerns, as to how citizens can make a change to the policies and practices that prevent us from increasing wealth”
LABEST is a collaboration of grass roots, non-profit, advocacy organizations, policy makers, and community leaders who have the common goal of helping Louisiana residents achieve financial independence. To do so, members of LABEST identify policies , promote advocacy awareness, and empower constituents to build economic security over a lifetime. Similar sessions are hosted throughout the nation.