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Study: University New Orleans Jesuit Social Research Institute Issues 2017 JustSouth Index

Loyola press release - May 4, 2018

New report shows Louisiana ranks 51st on measures of social justice for second year in a row; spotlights the three most challenging issues facing the Gulf South – poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion

The 2017 JustSouth Index report issued today by Loyola University New Orleans’ Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) reveals that Louisiana falls last in the nation (51st in the U.S. including D.C.) on measures of social justice. The JustSouth Index measures and compares states’ performance on nine quantitative indicators that fall under the dimensions of poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion—three of the most challenging issues facing the Gulf South today.

JSRI officially released the updated JustSouth Index report and interactive website today during a Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., held at 1 p.m., Thursday, May 3, 2018 sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA 2nd District). The full report and an online media packet, as well as an interactive website showing results for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., can be found online.

Louisiana ranked low in all three of the JustSouth Index factors: 46th in poverty, 47th in immigrant exclusion and 50th in racial disparity. According to the report, the four other Gulf South states also ranked especially low, with Texas at 49th, Alabama at 47th, Mississippi at 46th and Florida slightly higher in 35th. Vermont ranked highest in the nation.

“The JustSouth Index serves as a measure of social justice examining key dimensions that must be addressed to improve lives and enhance human dignity,” said the Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D., executive director of Loyola’s Jesuit Social Research Institute. “Our purposes, rooted deeply in the Scriptures and Catholic social justice traditions, are to educate the people of this region and to point out how we together can make the kind of changes that promote far greater social justice, equity, and inclusion for all of us who live here.”

The JustSouth Index, made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, establishes a measure of social justice and provides policymakers, employers and residents with a better understanding of how residents of the Gulf South are faring with regard to basic human rights and needs.

“Striving for a socially just society requires critical analyses of the structures of our society to determine if they perpetuate inequity or enhance justice,” JSRI said in the study. “By measuring and comparing all 50 states and Washington D.C. on nine social justice-related indicators, the JustSouth Index provides a strong starting point for determining not only where inequity is most problematic, but also what systemic factors contribute to the inequity.”

The Just South Index examines nine social indicators that cut across the three key measures that address fundamental concerns of human development: health, education and income. The holistic report is not simply an economic report—it also provides a roadmap for changing the social environment.

Key findings in Louisiana include:

  • On nine quantitative indicators related to social justice, Louisiana ranked 51st compared to all other states and Washington D.C. The other Gulf South states ranked similarly low, with Texas at 49th, Alabama at 47th, Mississippi at 46th and Florida at 35th.
  • The average income of households in the lowest income quartile in Louisiana was just $11,076 per year. This is compared to the national average of $15,384 per year and the federal poverty line of $25,100 a year for a family of four.
  • More than 1 in 5 workers (22%) in Louisiana earn wages at or below $10 an hour.
  • Louisiana ranks 8th highest in racially segregated schools. More than 1 in 5 schools (22.7%) in Louisiana are considered segregated and have a student population that is 90 percent or more one race where this demographic is not representative of the total public school population in the county.
  • Louisiana has the 2nd biggest white-minority wage gap and 6th biggest white-minority unemployment gap in the U.S., noting differences between white workers and workers of color of similar age, level of education, and occupation.

Recommendations for improving social justice and equity in Louisiana include:

  • legislate a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour and rescind the 2012 preemption law banning municipal minimum wages and sick leave policies;
  • establish a Civil Rights Division within the Louisiana Workforce Commission to investigate complaints of discriminatory practices by employers;
  • increase state enforcement of school desegregation and establish accountability measures and best practices for desegregation in school districts, and
  • increase state funding of public schools and secure equal funding allocation to minority-majority schools.

Alí R. Bustamante, Ph.D., JSRI economic policy specialist and principal investigator on the report, stated that state and local governments as well as nonprofits and employers have the ability to improve social justice for individuals and families in the Gulf South.

“The JustSouth Index finds that states in the Gulf South continue to rank low in the social justice dimensions of poverty, racial disparity, and immigrant exclusion. However, positive societal change is possible when we identify and overcome the systemic factors that contribute to inequity,” Bustamante said. “Inclusive economic and social progress is possible if we focus on equity and justice. The Gulf South states are no exception.”

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