States bordering Gulf of Mexico rank at, near bottom of new index

IMAGE: CNS photo/Larry W. Smith, EPA

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — Everything gets ranked these days, from burger joints to colleges.
States are no different.

But the
state of some states is quite different from their counterparts.

An area
called the “Gulf South” — the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico — rank
at or near the bottom of the JustSouth Index issued by the Jesuit Social
Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans. Those states are
Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

index, which debuted last year, looks at poverty, racial disparity and
immigrant exclusion — areas that the study’s originators saw as important from
the viewpoint of Catholic social teaching. The index looked at three aspects of
each area before arriving at its rankings.

Alabama, Louisiana and Texas earned spots in the bottom six rankings” overall,
said the study, which was unveiled May 2 at the Capitol. This is an improvement
over the first year of the rankings, when they were in the bottom four.

which had been 41st in the first index, moved up six spots to 35th. But the
Sunshine State shouldn’t pat itself on the back quite yet; it finished dead
last in poverty.

finished 50th in racial disparity and 47th in immigrant exclusion; while
Mississippi finished ahead of only Florida in poverty, and Texas wound up 50th
in immigrant exclusion and 48th in poverty.

Father Fred Kammer, director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute, said: “Sadly,
the Gulf South states continue to lag far behind many others in promoting
integral human development for their residents, even though there are some
marginal changes in one indicator or another.”

though, need not be incremental or Sisyphus-like. From last year’s index to
this year’s, big leaps were not impossible. Wyoming soared from 24th to second,
while Alaska moved from 28th to seventh, and Wisconsin leapt from 33rd to 16th.
Likewise, Connecticut dropped from fifth to 20th, Utah slid from 17th to 33rd,
and South Dakota slumped from 15th to 43rd.

three indicators for the poverty ranking were the average income of poor
households, health insurance coverage for the poor and housing affordability.
For racial disparity, the indicators were public school integration,
white-minority wage equity and white-minority employment equity. The immigrant
exclusion indicators were immigrant youth outcomes, immigrants’ English
proficiency and health insurance coverage of immigrants.

Gulf South has an unmistakable legacy of discrimination and marginalization
toward people of color. The disproportionate advantages for white Americans in
relation to persons of color in virtually every sphere of life illustrate the
deep divisions that exist despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the
election of the first African-American president,” the study said.

Kammer said May 2 the region’s legacy of slavery and racial discrimination
contributes to unequal outcomes for whites and nonwhites.

Windham, associate director of Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative
for Labor and the Working Poor, added the region “has the lowest union density”
in the country. “People with union jobs make better wages,” she declared,
noting the history of employers who have moved production to the nonunion South
to avoid unions and to pay workers less.

remains a grinding, draining issue in the region. “In 1996, 68 of every 100
poor families received TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) benefits
and in 2014, just 23 of every 100 poor families were receiving benefits,” the
report said. “The maximum TANF monthly benefit for a single-parent family of
three in Mississippi is $170 compared to $653 in Wisconsin and $789 in New York.”

region also has fared poorly in adapting to growing numbers of immigrants.

in the Gulf South have experienced a significant influx of immigrants into
their workforces in recent years and have not yet made adequate adjustments to
their social, economic, and political systems in order to promote justice and
dignity for immigrant residents,” the report said. “In addition, the Gulf
South’s treatment of immigrants is colored by a history of discrimination
against Hispanics and African-Americans.”

face other forms of discrimination as well, according to the report. “In Texas,
schools districts that have experienced an influx of students with limited
English proficiency have had difficulty providing effective services to
students because the school finance system does not take into consideration the
true costs of providing quality language services to immigrant children,” it

businesses will attempt to reduce costs by classifying immigrants as contract,
temporary, or part-time workers to avoid offering benefits,” it continued. “Not only are these
practices harmful to immigrant workers and families but also are not in the
long-term interest of the employer, because workers who have health insurance
are more present, productive and committed to their jobs.”

another score, “public school segregation contributes to second-class schools
where quality is low and resources are scarce. Additionally, gaps in employment
and earnings stemming from racial and ethnic differences embody discriminatory
practices and limit the economic opportunities of people of color to the benefit
of their white neighbors,” the report said, noting that after federal
supervision of public-school districts was eased, more minority students were
educated in schools that were predominantly minority-majority.

the index pointed out flaws in states’ practices, it also offered policy

and school districts, it said, “should increase the share of resources
allocated to schools serving a large percentage of minority students.
Additional funding would allow those schools to attract and retain high-quality
teachers, and provide critical support services for at-risk students.”

added, “States can create incentive housing zones in which developers could
request a project-based subsidy from the state for a specified number of
affordable rental units developed within the zone.”

relatively easy fix: expanding Medicaid.

2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provided an option for state
leaders to expand the Medicaid program, largely funded with federal dollars, to
provide coverage to the poorest persons in the state,” the report said. “Nineteen
states, including four in the Gulf South region, have chosen not to do so.”

– – –

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

– – –

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article