Louisiana is the third worst state to raise a family according to a recent nationwide study, but local scholars said the study has varying implications.
The study by personal finance website WalletHub, looked at several key factors, categorized by family fun, health and safety, education and child care and affordability. Through this lens, states like Massachusetts, New York and Vermont came out on top. Louisiana...not so much.
The state has the second-highest infant mortality rate at 7.94. Last place went to Mississippi. Louisiana also has the fourth-highest separation and divorce rate, coming out to 24.58%.
Despite 42.09% of families in Louisiana having young children, the state has only 5.57 pediatricians per capita, the fourth-worst day care quality in the nation and the second-worst public school quality. There are 6.39 violent crimes and 28.84 property crimes per capita.
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Tammy Johnston, professor of economics at the University of Louisiana Monroe, said Louisiana's ranking should be taken with a grain of salt.
She said because the study factors in "family fun," a subjective measure, the ranking reflects what the researchers deem as fun. Part of the family fun measure is made of how many public parks and playgrounds there are in a state. Johnston said this measure fails to realize that Louisiana is "Sportsman's Paradise" and that just about anywhere can function as a park, even if not officially.
"You could consider the whole state like a park," Johnston said. "There's things that maybe we're doing in Louisiana that's different than what you would do in New York City. In New York City, if there's not an established park, then you're not going outdoors and doing recreation; but here, it may well be that people are doing things outdoors and having recreation, and we don't have to have a formal park to do it."
Ethel Jones, director of Louisiana Tech University's School of Human Ecology, said that though some of the data for this study is probably self-reported, it does hold some validity.
She said it makes sense as to why Louisiana, along with several of its southern counterparts, continuously rank high on lists of worst measures, such as poor quality of education, poverty and crime rate. She said kids need safe places where they can play and many rural areas do not have the resources to do so.
Jones said the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these measures.
"COVID-19 has brought it to the forefront, has given a clearer vision of how wide the gap really is between the haves and the have nots," Jones said. "They talk about the resources of these children in these rural parishes, not having the technology. How are they getting their education? They can't because there's no technology available."
Johnston said the main factors she would take into account for a similar study would be educational opportunities, safety and quality of life. For education, Johnston said Louisiana has several universities and offers TOPS, a state scholarship program. As for quality of life, cities like Monroe and West Monroe are revitalizing their downtown areas and even building a marina. There are also cultural activities such as festivals and parades for locals to partake in.
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She also said the study says nothing about pleasantness of climate and how she would be hard-pressed to move anywhere with colder weather.
Though the study outlines where families have the most success raising their kids, Johnston said picking where you live isn't always a choice. Most families are where they are because of jobs or their family already living there.
"You're going to need to be able to have a job, that you have income to sustain your family," Johnston said. "And so that's going to be the number one driver as to where people go."
Though there are some "bright spots" in Louisiana, such as Ruston, Jones said the state is in great need of support and education for the population. According to Jones, the infant mortality rate in the state is so high because children are having their own children. This promotes a cycle where children cannot support their babies or get access to health care or child care, thus increasing the risk of babies dying.
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Furthermore, these young parents are sometimes forced to drop out of school and call on their friends and family to help raise their children. Young mothers who experience postpartum depression do not get the resources they need to recover.
"Then you can't afford to get a job because you're trying to educate yourself," Jones said. "You don't have you don't have the necessary resources to help move yourself and your children out of poverty."
Jones said qualified politicians can solve the problem by implementing policy. However, they can only implement the correct policies if they are knowledgeable and experienced in the field that they issue policy on. Jones said one place for legislators to start is with the minimum wage in Louisiana.
"You can't live, feed a family with $7.50 an hour," Jones said. "They're still addressing only one-parent families over here, but you need to have two- or three-parent families and you might need two and three jobs from only making $7.50 — and the cost of living keeps going up. That doesn't help."
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This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Louisiana ranked third-worst state to raise a family