The data is in, and it's not all good.
Every year the Council for a Better Louisiana compiles a fact book and distributes it to state leaders, policymakers, and thousands of state residents. The nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide organizations focuses on issues affecting the public interest in an attempt to provide a tool for progress. The 2009 Fact Book is the fourth edition for CABL.
The first issue it delves into: the need to transform and modernize the state's economy. Any increases are attributed to hurricane recovery and surges in the oil and gas industry. Such increases are seen as "artificial" and not the type of economy that could ride success into the future.
The report also points to a poorly-performing school system, and the lack of education that goes along with it. The state has a high dropout rate, and many adults don't have any kind of post-secondary degree. About 20 percent don't have a high school diploma.
Census estimates show those who actually have education end up leaving the state. Louisiana ranks low in high-tech jobs and wages. We're 48th when it comes to technology jobs.
So why would someone in such a field stick around for long? It's apparent that many workers are simply going where the money goes. If it happens to be in another state, they go after it. Figures show the state has lost 3.9 percent of its population since 2000. The most, by far, left the New Orleans area. Of course, any mention of such figures gets an asterisk due to the devastation of hurricanes over the last few years, mainly Katrina in 2005.
The report also illustrates the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots." Louisiana has the widest gap between those at the lowest end of the income ladder and those at the top. More than 32 percent make less than $25,000 a year. Louisiana has a high percentage of what's called the "working poor," which are those who earn less than one-and-a-half times the poverty level. That leaves nearly 1 in 4 children living in poverty. Louisiana's most recent poverty rate stands at 16 percent, which is third highest in the nation.
In the public safety section, Louisiana ranks first in murders per 100,000 people and first in state prisoner incarceration. The violent crime rate checks in at fourth. The cost of crime adds up in many ways. The state spends nearly $21,000 a year on each prisoner. And there are a lot of them. A total of 37,969 are locked up, mostly for violent crimes.
When it comes to juvenile offenders, the numbers are even higher. We spend almost $132,000 a year on each juvenile in a state institution, and that doesn't include medical/mental health costs.
Louisiana's health care woes are also well documented. Our residents die prematurely of diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. Some 56 percent of births in the state were financed by Medicaid. We spent more than $6 billion on Medicaid this year alone. Both CQ Press and the United Health Foundation ranked Louisiana next-to-last in the nation in health care.
As if it sounds like it can't get much worse, we're also losing land at an alarming rate. We lose a football field of marshland every 38 minutes. We've lost an area greater than the size of Rhode Island since 1930.
Most of the report may seem to be doom and gloom, but there are a few bright spots. After all, more than 90 percent of the crawfish harvested in the United States come from Louisiana. And some 20 million people visit our state every year. With numbers like that coming into the state, we must have something going for us. Don't we?
Covington woman, 26, booked in fatal Causeway crash - Olivia Matte was booked with vehicular homicide and other charges, authorities say.