Multi-agency report reveals disparity in living conditions for Louisianans

By Oxfam

NEW ORLEANS — A new report released today reveals stark disparities in the life expectancy, educational attainment and incomes of African Americans and whites in Louisiana as well as between the richest and poorest citizens of the state. "A Portrait of Louisiana: the Louisiana Human Development Report 2009," provides a state-wide, parish-by-parish assessment, broken down by race, of such indicators as lifespan, earnings, incidence of diabetes, high school completion, crime, birth weight and more.

"This study will be an especially useful tool to Louisiana legislators, activists and philanthropists because it provides an evidence-based portrait of living conditions in the state. It looks at our health, our education and our economic status, leading to important conclusions about how we must proceed to create a better Louisiana that is characterized by communities of opportunity," said Flozell Daniels Jr., President and CEO of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation. "The report makes it clear that we cannot forge ahead while leaving so many people behind. It is not only unjust; it is also ineffective."

"A Portrait of Louisiana" is the second state-specific report produced by the authors of The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009 since its release last summer. It applies the American Human Development Index—a single measure of well-being for all Americans based on indicators in three key areas: health, education and income—to life in Louisiana. Using U.S. government statistics on longevity, educational attainment and enrollment, and earnings, the American Human Development Report revealed where America is today and set a benchmark against which we will be able to assess where we are tomorrow. In countries around the world where similar studies have been done, Human Development Index findings have proven that strategic investments in health, education and employment boost people's well-being as well as national prosperity.

Some surprising findings of "A Portrait of Louisiana" include the following:

  • Women in Louisiana live longer than men and have higher educational levels, yet earn an average of $16,000 less per year.
  • The average life span for African Americans in Louisiana today (72.2 years) is shorter than that of Colombia, Vietnam and Venezuela. The average life span of an African American in New Orleans is 69.3 years, nearly as low as North Korea.
  • Whites in Louisiana have wages and salaries on par with those African Americans earning the most. The median earnings for whites ranges from $25,000 to $37,000. For African Americans the same range is from $13,000 to $25,000.
  • The 6.6% unemployment rate in Louisiana is well below the national average of 9.4%.

"This report explores actions needed to build an infrastructure of opportunity so that all in Louisiana can be productive citizens and reach their full potential," said Sarah Burd-Sharps, co-author of both this report and the American Human Development Report. "Doing so is critical to the economic growth and future competitiveness of Louisiana in the knowledge-based global marketplace of tomorrow," added co-author Kristen Lewis.

"In Louisiana, where we work with 16 state and local organizations such as the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, this report clearly illustrates the conditions residents were struggling with even prior to the hurricanes of 2005—limited access to education, lower incomes, and shorter lives—and argues for a comprehensive solution for recovery," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, which helped to fund the report with the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and the Foundation for the Mid-South. "And it comes at a crucial time, given the financial challenges facing the state and nation, to help policymakers prioritize how to use scarce funds."

"A Portrait of Louisiana," like the American Human Development Report, was published by the Social Science Research Council. Go to for the full text of the report and interactive maps of Louisiana.

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