BATON ROUGE – Louisiana continues to struggle with unacceptably high rates of poverty and income inequality. New U.S. Census Bureau data also reveal deep racial and regional disparities, proof that economic barriers are holding back far too many Louisianans from reaching their full potential.

Louisiana tied with New Mexico for the nation’s second-highest poverty rate in 2017, and the state’s child poverty rate is now the highest in the country. The economic gap between rich and poor is the fourth-highest in the country.

These and other findings come from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which provides  the most detailed annual picture of how Louisianans are faring economically.

“These statistics are troubling to say the least, and they speak to the changes that need to be made by policymakers,” said Jeanie Donovan, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project. “For example, a statewide minimum wage above the federal minimum would help close the gap between rich and poor and break down one of the barriers preventing people from reaching the middle class.”

Major findings include:

  • The overall poverty rate in Louisiana fell slightly in 2017 to 19.7 percent from 20.3 percent the previous year.
  • Louisiana’s median income of $46,145 in 2017 was 24 percent below the national median income. Adjusted for inflation, it remains about $2,000 below 2007 levels.
  • New Orleans has the highest poverty rate among America’s 50 largest metro areas at 18.6 percent. But several Louisiana cities had higher rates of poverty, led by Opelousas at 26.3 percent.
  • The poverty rate in the Lake Charles region plummeted 8 points – from 20.8 percent in 2016 to 12.9 percent in 2017.
  • Median household incomes increased in six Louisiana metro areas in 2017, but fell from the previous year in four other metros.
  • The percentage of African-Americans living in “deep poverty” in Louisiana – or below 50 percent of the federal poverty line – increased 1.5 percentage points in 2017 while conditions in the rest of the country improved.

“Having the highest rate of child poverty in that nation is completely unacceptable, and there are solutions that are working in other states,” Donovan said. “Increasing access to affordable child care and post-secondary opportunities coupled with greater investments in the state Earned Income Tax Credit would help to boost low-income families and children out of poverty.”