Recently, a representative of Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans asked me this question from the archbishop, “How much does it cost to live in New Orleans these days?” It was a question that had haunted me as an employer in the years immediately after Katrina as reports and rumors mixed together about rising prices of food, housing, utilities, and other basics. The census does not give us this information, nor do other reports from state, local, or federal governments, even in the traditional measures of “official poverty.” Yet the questions about cost of living in New Orleans and other cities persist, as do the realities of so many families coming to churches and social agencies across our state for food, utility assistance, and other financial help—especially near the end of the month when paychecks, social security, and other financial support have been exhausted. Thus the report that follows. Staffed by our new Economic Policy Specialist Alí R. Bustamante, assisted by our fellows and student researchers, and made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Jesuit Social Research Institute set out to study just what it costs typical families to live a modest but dignified life in Louisiana and its major cities. Put another way, what does “economic security” mean for families in our state? The question has critical implications and significant moral import for employers, policy-makers, and all of us concerned with the common good.
-Fred Kammer, S.J.