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Study: Loyola University New Orleans Jesuit Social Research Institute Issues 2018 JustSouth Index

By Loyola University on Wed, 12/11/2019 - 09:38

New report shows Gulf South states rank below average on measures of social justice for third year in a row; spotlights three challenging issues facing the Gulf South – poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion

(New Orleans, LA – November 21, 2019) The 2018 JustSouth Index report released today by Loyola University New Orleans’ Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) reveals that states in the Gulf South of the U.S. all fall near the bottom of the index on measures of social justice. The JustSouth Index measures and compares states’ performance on nine quantitative indicators that fall under three dimensions: poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion.  All 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, were scored.

According to the report, the five Gulf South States ranked among the bottom 11 states.  Specifically, they ranked as follows:
Florida #41
Texas # 46
Alabama #49
Mississippi #50
Louisiana #51

Hawaii topped the list at No. 1, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Montana, and Virginia.

“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.”
Key findings for the Gulf South include:

●    All of the Gulf South states had difficulties in each of the three dimensions of poverty, race disparity, and immigrant exclusion.  Most notable is the concentration of all of the Gulf South states at the bottom of the poverty dimension: Alabama #44, Florida #48, Louisiana #49, Texas #50, and Mississippi #51.
●    Louisiana, for the third year in a row, was at the bottom of the overall Index ranking of the states (51st compared to all other states and Washington D.C.).  This is the case despite making the greatest gains of all the states in the percentage of the population with health insurance coverage (one of the nine indicators measured across the three dimensions).
●    Mississippi and Louisiana had the lowest average incomes of households among low-income households in the U.S.—$10,821 and $11,016 per year in 2017 respectively. These numbers actually represent a decrease from the previous year.  This is compared to the national average of $16,293 per year and $22,234 per year in Maryland, the state that ranked highest on that indicator. 
●    Texas and Mississippi had the highest shares of low-income people without health insurance in the U.S., 35.3% and 32.3% respectively. Florida had the fifth-highest share with 28.3%. This compares to a national average of 16.9% and a low of 4.9% in Massachusetts.
●    Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi had the three largest gaps in annual earnings between white and minority workers of similar age, level of education, and occupation. Minority workers earned 18.5%, 18.4% and 17.7% less than their white counterparts respectively, compared to a national average gap of 10.2%.
●    More than one in five public schools in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama are racially segregated, 21.9%, 21.8% and 20.6% respectively. This is compared to the national average of 14.0% and only 0.7% in Hawaii, the state that ranked highest on that indicator.
●    In Alabama, 21.4% of immigrant youth ages 18-24 were considered “disconnected.” This is the third highest percentage of all the states. The term “disconnected” refers to those who are not attending school and do not have regular employment. 
●    Texas had the highest percentage (37.8%) of foreign-born residents with difficulty speaking English.
●    States that have raised the minimum wage and expanded Medicaid eligibility generally ranked higher than states that chose not to do so. 

Recommendations for improving social justice and equity in the Gulf South include:

●    Extend Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act to include all households with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level;
●    Raise the minimum wage;
●    Initiate/expand state Earned Income Tax Credit programs;
●    Initiate state Child Tax Credit programs;
●    Create state and local initiatives for the development of affordable housing and invest state funds in low-income housing assistance;
●    Improve access to English as a Second Language (ESL) and adult education classes; 
●    Revisit policies that improved integration of schools in the 1970s and 1980s;
●    Increase resources to schools that serve primarily minority and immigrant students; and
●    Combat employment discrimination and workers’ rights violations through enhanced enforcement efforts by federal, state, and nonprofit entities.

“While the Gulf South states currently rank low on the Index, it is well within the power and the duty of leaders and citizens in those states to change the current reality,” says JSRI.  “Improving a state’s ranking on the indicators, dimension indices, and the overall JustSouth Index will require that policymakers, advocates, philanthropists, business, labor and community leaders, and citizens take action to work for policy and program changes that will more justly distribute opportunity and resources to all in society. In turn, they will serve the common good and create greater solidarity among residents of each state.”

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