Jesuit Social Research Institute Issues 2017 JustSouth Index

May 3, 2018 - The Jesuit Social Research Institute (JSRI) today released the 2017JustSouth Index revealing that states in the U.S. Gulf South all fall near the bottom of the index on measures of social justice. 

The JustSouth Index measures and compares states’ performance on nine quantitative indicators that fall under the dimensions of poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion—three of the most challenging issues facing the Gulf South today. 

JSRI officially released the updated JustSouth Index report and interactive website during a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 3, 2018, sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA 2nd District). The full report and an interactive map showing results for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., can be found on JSRI's website.

According to the report, the five Gulf South states ranked especially low, with Louisiana lowest at 51st, Texas at 49th, Alabama at 47th, Mississippi at 46th and Florida slightly higher in 35th. Vermont ranked highest in the nation.

“The JustSouth Index serves as a measure of social justice examining key dimensions that must be addressed to improve lives and enhance human dignity,” said Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ, J.D., executive director of JSRI. “Our purposes, rooted deeply in the Scriptures and Catholic social justice traditions, are to educate the people of this region and to point out how we together can make the kind of changes that promote far greater social justice, equity and inclusion for all of us who live here.” 

The JustSouth Index, made possible by a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, establishes a measure of social justice and provides policymakers, employers and residents with a better understanding of how residents of the Gulf South are faring with regard to basic human rights and needs. 

“Striving for a socially just society requires critical analyses of the structures of our society to determine if they perpetuate inequity or enhance justice,” JSRI said in the study. “By measuring and comparing all 50 states and Washington D.C. on nine social justice-related indicators, the JustSouth Index provides a strong starting point for determining not only where inequity is most problematic, but also what systemic factors contribute to the inequity.”

The Just South Index examines nine social indicators that cut across the three key measures that address fundamental concerns of human development: health, education and income. The holistic investigation is not simply an economic report—it also provides a roadmap for changing the social environment.

Key findings for the Gulf South include:

  • On nine quantitative indicators related to social justice, Louisiana ranked 51st compared to all other states and Washington D.C.  The other Gulf South states ranked similarly low, with Texas at 49th, Alabama at 47th, Mississippi at 46th position and Florida at 35th. 
  • In the U.S., Mississippi and Louisiana have the lowest average incomes of households among low-income households: $11,051 and $11,076 per year in 2016 respectively. This is compared to the national average of $15,384 per year and $22,970 per year in Alaska, the state that ranked highest on that indicator. Currently, the federal poverty line is $25,100 a year for a family of four.
  • Texas and Mississippi have the highest shares of low-income people without health insurance the U.S., 34.7% and 32.4% respectively. This compares to a national average of 18.7% and a low of 4.6% in Vermont.
  • Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have three of the top 5 highest gaps in annual earnings between white and minority workers of similar age, level of education, and occupation. Minority workers earn 18.5%, 16.1% and 14.2% less than their white counterparts respectively, compared to a national average gap of 6.1%.
  • One in five of immigrant youth in Texas ages 18 to 25 are considered “disconnected,” meaning that these young people are not attending school and do not have regular employment. This is often the result of inadequate accommodations in public high schools for English language learners and lack of job training or GED services for immigrant youth who have left the public education system. 
  • More than two in ten public schools in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are racially segregated, 22.8%, 22.7% and 22.4% respectively. This is compared to the national average of 13.8% and only 1% in Hawaii, the state that ranked highest on that indicator.
  • More than seven in ten Florida households that are in the lowest income quartile have a “housing cost burden,” meaning that they spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. 
  • States that have raised the minimum wage, implemented a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), expanded Medicaid eligibility and invested in housing assistance outperformed states that have not. It is imperative that the state lawmakers continue and enhance efforts to address economic and social injustices.

Recommendations for improving social justice and equity in the Gulf South include:

  • extend Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act to include households with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level;
  • raise the minimum wage;
  • strengthen investments in child care assistance and the state Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • create state and local incentives for the development of affordable housing and invest state funds in low-income housing assistance;
  • improve access to English as a Second Language (ESL) and adult education classes; 
  • revisit policies that improved integration of schools in the 1970s and 1980s;
  • increase resources to schools that serve primarily minority and immigrant students, and
  • combat employment discrimination and workers’ rights violations through enhanced enforcement efforts by federal, state and nonprofit entities.

Alí R. Bustamante, Ph.D., JSRI economic policy specialist and principal investigator on the report, stated that local and state governments, as well as nonprofits and employers, have the ability to improve social justice for individuals and families in the Gulf South.

“The JustSouth Index finds that states in the Gulf South continue to rank low in the social justice dimensions of poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion. However, positive societal change is possible when we identify and overcome the systemic factors that contribute to inequity,” Bustamante said. “Inclusive economic and social progress is possible if we focus on equity and justice. The Gulf South states are no exception.”

JSRI is a collaboration between the USA Central and Southern Province and Loyola University New Orleans. Based at the university, JSRI seeks to educate and advocate on issues of race, poverty and migration.

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