Known internationally as the birthplace of jazz and for one of the world’s most robust celebrations of Mardi Gras, Louisiana is a cultural gem of the United States.
The latest Best State rankings by the U.S. News and World Report, however, place Louisiana at the very bottom of all 50 states.
In each of the eight metrics the report uses to rank states – health care, education, economy, opportunity, infrastructure, crime and corrections, fiscal stability and quality of life – Louisiana ranks no higher than in the 40s.
Daniel Erspamer, chief executive officer of Louisiana’s Pelican Institute, said the ranking for the state was concerning, but not surprising.
“Louisiana’s bottom-of-the-barrel ranking is the most consistently unsurprising news every time we hear it,” Erspamer said.
The most glaring ranking is No. 50 in opportunity. A poverty rate of just more than 20 percent is nearly 5 percent more than the national average and ranks No. 49, while household income and food insecurity rank No. 47.
Erspamer said the state’s regulatory climate created issues for both careers and opportunity.
“With a stifling legal climate, complicated tax rates, a punishing occupational licensure regime, and red-tape regulatory climate, it’s no wonder jobs and opportunity are hard to come by,” Erspamer said.
Health care in Louisiana placed No. 47, with the highest national percentage of adults with no dental visits in a year. The affordability of care (No. 48) and enrollment in health insurance (No. 43) also bring down the rankings. Louisiana does lead the U.S., however, in child wellness visits and placed No. 22 and No. 26 in adult wellness visits and child dental visits, respectively.
The report also indicated that both crime and corrections were an issue in Louisiana, with a No. 48 ranking. Louisiana ranks No. 50 in its incarceration rate, with slightly less than 800 people incarcerated per 100,000 residents. Violent crimes rank No. 46, while property crimes rate at No. 47.
Louisiana’s economy ranked No. 44, with the 46th ranked employment and 40th place unemployment rate. One bright spot in terms of economics was the state’s tax burden, which ranked No. 15.
Stephen Waguespack, president and chief executive officer of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said that the state’s tax burden is low, but is also very complicated.
“Our tax burden is in fact relatively low, but our system is so complicated that on the surface it’s a red flag for businesses looking to open shop in Louisiana,” Waguespack said. “We need a fairer, flatter, simpler structure that truly reflects our low-tax status.”
Education in Louisiana overall ranked next to last, with struggling higher education (No. 49) and Pre-K-12 (No. 45) rankings. The state’s Pre-K quality is ranked sixth, however, and students graduating from Louisiana’s institutes of higher education graduated with the 19th-lowest amount of debt at graduation. Only 77.5 percent of Louisiana freshmen graduate within five years, which ranked 44th in the U.S. News rankings. National Assessment of Education Progress scores for reading (48th) and math (49th) in the state also ranked particularly low for Louisiana eighth-graders.
Deidre McPhillips, data editor at U.S.News and World Report, said the state did have a few bright spots on the rankings.
“It boasts the lowest electricity price in the U.S. and is among the best for child wellness checkups,” McPhillips said. “It is also among the best states for voter participation rates and Pre-K quality.”
Don Pierson, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary, said other publications have given Louisiana top rankings in terms of job-creation projects, capital investment and cybersecurity growth potential, along with several top 10 rankings for business-related accolades. Pierson also said Louisiana had attracted $178.8 billion in capital investment announcements.
“Are we absolutely where we want to be as a state? Of course not," Pierson said. "But as we look across Louisiana, we are witnessing economic progress in every region, giving us genuine cause for optimism.”
Erspamer said in terms of improving itself in the future, every policy decision should involve bringing opportunity and jobs back to Louisiana.
“We have to wrest ourselves from a broken system rigged in favor of special interests and the status quo and bring back jobs to the state,” Erspamer said. “It starts with fixing our broken budget process and providing transparency so that government works for taxpayers and not the other way around. Then, we have to free entrepreneurs and job creators from red tape regulations and burdensome licensing requirements through solutions like the Right to Earn a Living Act.”
Waguespack added that it was time for Louisiana to start looking toward the future.
“We all love our lifestyle in Louisiana – the food, the music and culture, the abundant natural resources, but is that enough? It’s time to demand more and that means parting from the past and truly innovating in areas that improve opportunity,” Waguespack said.