Wednesday, April 12, 2006


"a poverty of leadership"

by Emily Metzgar

Evidence of Louisiana's poverty problem abounds: In 2005, Orleans Parish was identified as one of the country's top 10 most impoverished counties. Media coverage of Katrina later broadcast that reality for the world to see. But Orleans wasn't the only Louisiana parish to make that dubious Top 10 list in 2005. Caddo did too. Clearly, Louisiana's poverty extends beyond New Orleans.

Well before the 2005 hurricane season, Louisiana had a higher percentage of its population without health insurance than almost any other state. It also had one of the nation's highest overall poverty rates, the nation's second-highest child poverty rate, the highest percentage of households receiving food stamps. And it was the only state whose per capita gross product actually decreased between 2000 and 2004.

These are not indicators of a state in good health, nor are these indicators of a state that can afford to adopt the most expensive budget in its history. And yet, that's what the governor has proposed and what the Legislature is considering. But reinstating the budget cuts implemented during Louisiana's all-too-brief post-hurricane period of "leaner and meaner government" is unlikely to solve one of the state's most pressing problems.

Louisiana has a poverty problem in more than the traditional sense of the word. It suffers from a poverty of priorities and a poverty of leadership committed to pursuing priorities in a way that will strengthen the state against future crises. Katrina should have been a wake-up call for Louisiana's politicians and media concerning the state's poverty problem. Instead, it looks like everyone just hit snooze and went back to sleep.

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