Historical, structural, and systemic factors continue to block social justice and equity, especially in the Gulf Coast states, where policy and programmatic decisions have made it difficult for many people to meet their basic needs, a report from the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans finds.
The JustSouth INDEX 2016 (19 pages, PDF) compared all fifty states and the District of Columbia on nine social justice indicators in three categories — poverty, racial disparities, and immigrant exclusion — and ranked Vermont first overall in terms of social justice and equity, followed by New Hampshire, Hawai'i, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. According to the index, the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama ranked at the bottom of the list, while Florida ranked forty-first overall. "Historically, states and communities in the Gulf South region have been slower to enact policies and develop systems that promote justice and equity for their residents, as compared to other states," the report notes.
Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the report suggests a number of policies and programs designed to improve measures of health, education, and economic security, including ways to boost the average income of the poorest households, increase rates of health insurance coverage, reduce school segregation, close the racial/ethnic gap in earnings, and reduce the share of "disconnected" immigrant youth who are neither in school nor working. The report also includes "report cards" for each state, with rankings for each category, comparisons to national averages, and demographic data.
"Although this inaugural release of the JustSouth Index paints a grim picture of the current state of social justice in Louisiana and the Gulf South, we are not without hope," said Jeanie Donovan, an economic policy specialist at JSRI. "Each individual indicator is actionable and connected to concrete policy and program recommendations. While the Gulf South states currently rank low in the index, it is well within the power, and the duty, of leaders and citizens in those states to change the current reality for the common good."