Following last year’s release of a report alleging a single parent and child needed to have a household income of about $45,000 to feel economically “secure” in Louisiana – using somewhat inflated estimates (for example, over $500 a month for child care) and ignoring government benefits (for example, a typical family in the situation described plus one child on average in Louisiana receives over $22,000 annually in tax-free government benefits – not including additional tax credits and rebates) – Loyola University of New Orleans’ Jesuit Social Justice Institute has doubled down. It recently compiled an index purportedly measuring “social justice,” and according to that the state ranks worst.
The data used do paint a picture of worse performance on nine indicators by Louisianans – grouped by “poverty,” “racial disparity,” and “immigrant exclusion” – than national averages. But the index assists little in formulating public policy dealing with the poor in America from the misleading nature of some of the elements composing it, their measurements, and half-baked understandings of the meanings and implications of those indicators.
For example, the poverty category includes only households in the lowest quartile of income. Particularly in Louisiana’s case, that makes the state look worse than objective conditions; it scored second-to-last on this indicator on this index, but on two of the three constituents parts – average income and proportion with health insurance – the state including all persons ranks significantly higher, with that mean ranking 37th. The third indicator, housing affordability, is limited in the index just to renters who typically have higher monthly costs.
Louisiana comes out distorted by restricting this measure because of the relative greater income disparities in the state. Only making a facile argument that government economic and social policy caused this in Louisiana justifies its use this way. This view ignores that fact that states with similar policies have less disparity and excludes any possibility that enculturated views have anything to do with the disparity. In other words, individual widely-held attitudes part of Louisiana’s culture – such as historically less value being placed upon education, more widely accepted feelings placing greater emphasis on government redistributing wealth, more acceptance of living for the present rather than planning for the future, etc. – negatively related to achievement among individuals likely have much more to do with greater income disparity than the researchers will admit.
Besides this, other conceptual problems exist with these indictors. For example, having “health insurance” is not the same thing as accessing “health care,” as the data from implementation of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion show, with conceptual errors stemming from required government intervention in these schemes degrading delivery of health care, much less quality health care.
But the problems with this set of indicators and the assumptions behind their use pale to those in the other two categories. “Racial disparity” includes public school segregation, largely a consequence of voluntary living patterns influenced by income; white/minority wage equity, for which analysts attempted to hold education and other factors constant; and white/minority employment equity, or unadjusted differential unemployment rates, which doesn’t account for other factors related to employability such as attitudes about work, education and training, and prevalence of government benefits that serve to discourage work.
The major unreliability of at least two of these indicators comes from researcher error in specification. They blithely assume that “racial disparity” indicates some kind of systematic negative bias against racial minorities, unconsciously or otherwise, percolates within society. Given the largely non-prejudicial attitudes within society and the legal and constitutional environment that filters out negative behaviors from that small portion who wish to act with prejudice makes such an assumption largely untenable.
The report authors surely are correct when they note historical past discrimination creates more difficulty in racial minority communities. But to discount prevalent attitudes and behaviors from the culture within these communities acting as internal brakes holding back achievement while ascribing major responsibilities to external factors represents a flight from reality.
And as far as the “immigrant exclusion” category, its conclusions become hopelessly contaminated in that its three indicators fail to distinguish in its data between adult legal and illegal aliens. The latter category does not have any rights to employment or schooling or health insurance, areas on which components of the index get measured. Any differences among states where proportions of aliens differ may come as a result of choices in enforcement of immigration laws.
In the final analysis, the general conclusions of the report that government must redistribute more wealth through increased spending on social programs and facilitated by regulation such as increasing the minimum wage has no validity because of the grave misspecification of the model. Or another to put it, incorrect assumptions about how human beings behave and how the world works, much less methodological problems evident in the study, makes those conclusions useless.
However, undoubtedly in the future Edwards and legislative Democrats will tout the flawed recommendations as support for their agenda to grow Louisiana’s redistributive government and make policy changes favoring that. Already they have made part of that the noxious notions of increasing the minimum wage and introducing the comparable worth ideology to pay practices – policies that would kill jobs and hurt the very people advocates of these repute to help. Just as measured analysis of this research demonstrates its lack of value in the debate over these issues, hopefully the same will occur to prevent these unwelcome changes from becoming law.