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Census data says poverty rates in La. on the rise

Sheila v Kumar, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Census data released Thursday indicates poverty levels in Louisiana have continued to climb while household incomes declined in the last year, making the state one of the poorest in the nation.

But while more people are finding themselves mired in poverty unemployment levels have slowly been ticking down — a trend officials say they find perplexing.

Reports from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey say the median, or midpoint, household income in Louisiana declined 4.7 percent from $43,804 in 2010 to $41,734 in 2011.

Additionally, reports say the number of people in poverty increased from 18.7 percent in 2010 to 20.4 percent in 2011, a 1.7 percent increase. According to the data, the New Orleans metro area, which includes Metairie and Kenner, is among the 10 metropolitan areas in the United States with the highest percent of people living in poverty.

There was growth in the number of young adults with health insurance. Between 2009 and 2011 there was a 3.4 percent increase in the percentage of adults aged 19 to 25 who are covered by health insurance. The drop is largely due to increased coverage for the demographic under the new health care law that allows them to be covered by their parents' health insurance until age 26.

Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret says while the numbers were a little worse than he was anticipating for 2011, Louisiana's national rankings for both poverty and median household incomes have improved since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in 2008.

"The poverty in our country grew more than twice as fast as poverty in Louisiana over the last four years," Moret said.

Louisiana's overall job growth rate has been the second fastest in the south over the last 12 months, Moret said. According to data from the ACS, the percent of state citizens unemployed dropped from 6.2 percent in 2010 to 5.6 percent in 2011.

"We're making a lot of progress but we have a lot of work left to do," he said.

Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director at CLASP, a nonprofit group dedicated to creating policies for low-income people based in Washington, D.C., says the difference between the declining unemployment rate and the rising poverty levels could be attributed to the types of jobs that are available.

"Employment reflects getting a job. It does not reflect the quality of the job. The new jobs that are coming on the market are mostly lower wage jobs, and people often in lower wage jobs are not getting full time work," she said.

"This means, people are getting jobs, but the jobs are still keeping them in poverty," she said.

The overall poverty rate of the country stands at 15 percent and median household incomes have been on the decline since 2007. The national median household income was $50,054, 1.5 percent lower than 2010.

New Mexico is the only state to have a higher share of poor people, at 22.2 percent, according to calculations from the Census Bureau.

The left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, which looks at how government spending affects low-to-moderate income families, says news of the state's increasing poverty levels are especially bad for the state's children, almost 30 percent of whom live in poverty.

"This clearly shows the need for more investments in education, healthcare and infrastructure, the known building blocks of broad-based economic growth," said director Jan Moller.