Crime is the top election-year concern of Louisianans, and most residents remain pessimistic about the state’s direction. But state residents are growing more confident about the state’s economy, though they remain skeptical about the ability of government to solve problems. The findings are from the first installment of the annual Louisiana Survey, released Thursday by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs. 

For example, 67% of respondents who attended college say the state is heading in the wrong direction while just 54% of those without any college agree. Similarly, 67% of respondents with a household income of $100,000 or more said the state is heading in the wrong direction, but this share drops to 48% among those whose household income is less than $25,000 (yet, even among this group, only 31% said the state is heading in the right direction). Pessimism is highest in the greater Baton Rouge area (70%) and greater New Orleans area (69%), but lower in greater Shreveport (54%), the rest of north Louisiana (55%), and south central/southwest Louisiana (52%).

Good news on Black unemployment
One of the unsung bright spots in the U.S. economy of recent years has been an historic drop in unemployment among Black Americans. As The New York Times’ Paul Krugman writes, the unemployment rate for Black men is at an all-time low, and the gap in joblessness between Black and white Americans has narrowed dramatically. This good news flies in the face of racialized tropes, popular among some conservatives, that able-bodied people are choosing not to work so they can collect government benefits. 

So what went right? A long period of truly full employment was crucial. You can see from both the second and third charts here that the old rule of “last hired, first fired” still applies: Black workers are still hurt much more than whites by recessions, and correspondingly benefit more when jobs are plentiful. The sluggish recovery from the 2008 financial crisis held Black progress back; the rapid recovery from the Covid recession has been good for everyone, but especially for groups that are still relatively disadvantaged. And this is a good reason for the Federal Reserve to try, if at all possible, to avoid imposing a gratuitous recession in its efforts to control inflation.

It’s also a good time for high school and college graduates to be entering the workforce. In a three-part blog series, the Economic Policy Institute explains that unemployment among young adults is at its lowest rate in 70 years and young people entering the workforce now are more likely to have stable work hours and higher wages than they would have four years earlier. These gains are due in large part to the federal government’s robust pandemic recovery efforts – something policymakers should keep in mind as many of those temporary measures expire.

Policy investments at the scale of the problem in the pandemic helped many workers stay afloat while sparking the recovery. After the huge job losses in March and April 2020 (specifically in industries most likely to employ younger workers), policymakers passed large fiscal recovery packages that spurred frantic rehiring efforts, which gave workers leverage to advocate for higher wages and better working conditions. Further, pandemic relief efforts like expanded unemployment insurance coverage and economic impact payments gave these workers a savings buffer that let them be more selective than normal when accepting a job offer.

Debt ceiling deal threatens housing assistance
U.S. House Republicans are demanding deep cuts to discretionary spending as a condition of paying America’s bills. . Cuts to these programs would push many across the nation into eviction, homelessness, and poverty, most severely impacting children, older adults, and people with disabilities. An analysis from the Biden Administration estimates that cuts to Housing Choice Vouchers alone, only one of many housing programs targeted in this bill, would result in 800,000 households – almost 1.8 million individuals – losing assistance. These cuts would compound over time as rental assistance must be increased annually to cover inflation-related housing cost increases. Sonya Acosta with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:

Rental assistance and homelessness assistance programs provide or connect people to stable housing; cutting funding for them would take away vital assistance that families need to stay housed and drastically reduce services that help people experiencing homelessness obtain housing. Already, these programs do not come close to meeting the existing need. Only 1 in 4 households eligible for rental assistance receive it, and an estimated 583,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2022 — about 40 percent of whom were in unsheltered locations with no safe place to eat, shower, or peacefully rest.

Legislative earmarks grease the political wheels
The budget plan crafted by Louisiana House Republicans stripped hundreds of millions of dollars sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards for teacher and faculty pay raises, investments in early care and education and other priorities. But lawmakers also added in more than $40 million in new spending earmarked for specific projects – often referred to as “pet projects” – without public vetting. The Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reported recently that a big chunk of these dollars are going to the districts of legislative leaders. But the inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press notes that such spending has a long history at the Legislature, where it has been a tool to win votes on tough issues. 

When Edwin Edwards took office in 1984 for an unprecedented third term, he called a special March session in an effort to raise $1.1 billion in taxes to take care of a budget deficit. A 1 percent increase in the state sales tax was a key feature of his tax plan that eventually raised $750 million during the eight-day session. The Legislative Black Caucus was given $10 million in what were called urban funds to use as members saw fit in return for support of the sales tax. Rural legislators later insisted they deserved a piece of that pie so a rural fund was created for their pet projects, and the spending continues.

The Senate Finance Committee now has its turn with the budget bills, and it’s a good bet that the earmarks will soon double in volume.

Number of the Day

19 – Percent of Louisianans who cite crime as their top concern – the first time in years that education or the economy haven’t led the list. (Source: 2023 Louisiana Survey, Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs)