St. Mary poverty outranks state

The 2011 poverty rate of Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes represented a mixed picture, according to statistics just released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

While St. Mary’s poverty rate of 20.6 percent was 1.8 higher than the state average and 5.3 more than the national average, Lafourche had a poverty rate of only 13.3, which was 5.5 percent lower than the state rate and 2 percentage points below the national average.

The poverty rate of 18.3 percent for Terrebonne was slightly below the state average and 3 percent higher than the rate for the U.S., the report shows.

Louisiana’s poverty rate of 18.8 percent is tied with Washington, D.C. for the fifth-highest poverty rate in the nation, the Census Bureau figures show. The state’s rate is 3.5 percent higher than the national rate of 15.3 percent.

Highest in the nation was Mississippi at 22.4 percent, followed by New Mexico (19.8 percent), and Alabama and Kentucky tied at third (18.9 percent).

Other than Florida, every southern state and Texas had poverty rates that exceeded 17 percent, Census Bureau statistics show and only two states exclusive of that geographic region, New Mexico and Arizona (17.6 percent) had poverty rates in excess of 17 percent.

Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have heavy concentrations of Hispanic populations and the southern states are densely populated by African-Americans. Both minority groups historically have higher unemployment rates.

The other southern states and their respective poverty rates were, in order, Arkansas (18.7 percent), West Virginia (18.2 percent), South Carolina (18.1 percent), Georgia (18 percent), Tennessee (17.8 percent), North Carolina (17.4 percent) and Florida (16.5 percent).

The 15.3 percent of citizens living in poverty in the U.S. is the highest percentage since 1993, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. That means that 46 million people fell below the poverty line, defined as $22,314 for a family of four.

If income spent on expenses such as medical costs, child care and mortgage payments is factored in, the number of Americans whose remaining income falls below the poverty line is nearer 50 million, or about 16 percent of the population, the report said.

The data provided by the Census Bureau showed that in dozens of counties, more than a third of the population lives in poverty and in a few, the overall poverty rates were closer to 50 percent.

In Louisiana, there were no parishes with 50 percent poverty rates but there were three with a third of their population living in poverty. Besides East Carroll, with 40.3 percent, there was Madison with 37.4 percent and Tensas with 33.3 percent, exactly one-third. Two others, Concordia (32.9 percent) and Claiborne (30.9 percent) had more than 30 percent living in poverty while Franklin and Morehouse parishes tied for the fifth highest poverty rate in Louisiana at 27.4 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, St. Tammany Parish had the lowest poverty rate at 9.2 percent. Many professionals who work in Orleans and Jefferson parishes reside across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany.

Livingston Parish (12.5 percent) had the second lowest poverty rate, followed by St. Charles (12.7 percent), Ascension (12.8 percent) and Cameron (13.1 percent. As with St. Tammany, many who work in East Baton Rouge Parish reside in Livingston and Ascension.

The poverty report could add impetus to the arguments of opponents of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package that the problems of Louisiana education lies not so much with inferior teachers as with poverty.

Opponents have maintained all along that the underlying cause of poor performance can be traced directly to poverty conditions and that blaming teachers is only a convenient political smokescreen to justify radical changes recently passed by the Louisiana Legislature at the urging of Jindal and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Of the 27 Louisiana school districts that received grades of D or F last year, 25 had poverty rates at or above the state average, according to figures provided by the Louisiana Department of Education and the Census Bureau.

Those school districts included Assumption, Avoyelles, Caddo, City of Baker, City of Bogalusa, Claiborne, DeSoto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Franklin, Iberville, Jefferson, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, the Recovery School District, Richland, St. Helena, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, Tangipahoa, Tensas, Union and Webster.