Child Poverty in New Orleans Surpasses National Rate

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By Kari Dequine Harden
Special to the Outlook Trice Edney News Wire

While the state of the economy in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina has been described as a renaissance – life is not getting much better for a large percentage of the city’s children.

According to a recent report by the Data Center, 39 percent of children in the city are living in poverty. The rates are much higher than Louisiana (28 percent) and the nation (22 percent). Child poverty is measured in terms of family income.

Poverty rates are now very close to what they were in 1999 (41 percent).
Mayor Mitch Landrieu released the following statement after the publication of the Data Center’s report.

“This report is a startling reminder that too many of our children are trapped in a cycle of poverty that robs them of the opportunities, support and resources they need to achieve their dreams. As we continue to rebuild New Orleans, I want every child to have the opportunity to succeed and to live a long, healthy and happy life. “

Poverty for children has much greater consequences than not having enough food to eat or meeting other basic needs – research shows it can have a detrimental effect on brain development.

According to the Data Center: “High poverty levels among New Orleans children are concerning for the long-term economic prospects of the city because of poverty’s effect on child brain development. Scientific research shows that child poverty can lead to chronic, toxic stress that disrupts the architecture of the developing brain. Children in poverty are much more likely to experience exposure to violence, chronic neglect, and the accumulated burdens of economic hardship. This kind of chronic stress causes prolonged activation of the stress response system, which in turn can disrupt the development of brain architecture, leading to lifelong difficulties in learning, memory, and self-regulation. In short, scholars argue that poverty may be the single greatest threat to children’s healthy brain development.”

The report counted 78,000 children (under 18) living in New Orleans as of 2013, down from 129,000 in 2000.

Landrieu continued: “We know that early childhood interventions have strong returns on investment, both for the child and for the community by reducing crime, poverty, homelessness and hunger. My Administration will continue to prioritize initiatives like NOLA FOR LIFE, Economic Opportunity and Racial Reconciliation to aggressively tackle these issues head on and to ac

knowledge the work yet to be done in New Orleans. The Health Department has also begun work on the social determinants of health, which are based on issues around poverty, economic development and education.”

According to the Data Center report, 48 percent of children in New Orleans live in a single-mother household, compared to 24 percent nationwide. Fifty-eight percent of single-mother households in New Orleans are living in poverty, compared to 41 percent nationwide. Sixty-seven percent of single mothers in New Orleans are working.

Of all families in New Orleans, 82 percent have at least one working parent. Given that relatively high number, the study asks: Why are so many children living in poverty?

“The answer may lie partially in the large number of low-wage jobs offered in the New Orleans area,” the report concludes. “A larger share — 12 percent — of full-time, year-round workers in the New Orleans metro earn less than $17,500 per year, as compared to only 8 percent nationally. And female workers who live in the city of New Orleans itself are more likely than male workers to earn low wages. According to 2013 Census data, more than 64,000 working women in New Orleans earned less than $17,500 in the prior 12 months through either full-time or part-time work.”

Nationwide, the rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class disappears. According to the Pew Research Center, never in the 30 years since the Federal Reserve first started collecting wealth data has the divide between the rich and everyone else been so large.

The wealth gap in the U.S. in 2013 was the biggest since at least 1983, according to the Pew study. The median wealth of upper-income families was 6.6 times that of middle-income families in 2013, up from 6.2 in 2010. The report showed that those same upper-income families are now nearly 70 times wealthier than low-income families.

New Orleans is no stranger to dramatic disparities in wealth. Amid the behemoth mansions of Uptown and the penchant for excess in the upper class, there is widespread poverty and an inequitable distribution of public resources.

In past interviews, Gen. Russel Honore has criticized the recovery of the city as benefitting people from other states and countries more than benefitting the people who were here rebuilding their lives and livelihoods following Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levee system.

Things globally for children and families are not looking much brighter. According to a 2014 article in The Guardian, “child poverty has increased in 23 countries in the developed world since the start of the global recession in 2008, potentially trapping a generation in a life of material deprivation and reduced prospects.”

Mayor Landrieu concluded in his press release: “This report and others remind us of a difficult truth: the work ahead of us is hard and it will take a long time to bend the arc of history. Nevertheless, we are focused and fearless in our efforts to bend that arc. My Administration will use this report to issue a clarion call to our community to reduce child poverty, and we will continue working around the clock until all New Orleans children are guaranteed a strong start and a fair shot at a bright future.”

The Data Center report concludes: “If we want to further our progress in building a healthy, prosperous, and resilient post-Katrina New Orleans, leaders will need to focus not only on job creation, but on quality job creation. Jobs must offer reasonable wages, some level of job security, and the prospect of work progression. In addition, the poor need to be connected to those quality jobs.”


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