The goal of our social media challenge “Building a Better Baton Rouge” is to spread awareness on a number of issues and disparities – such as the need for economic development in north Baton Rouge, access to healthcare, education budget cuts, wealth & income inequality, and predatory lending- that exist in Baton Rouge and how African-American communities are affected by them. We will explore how various socioeconomic factors such as income, age, and education affects demographics’ sensitivity to the these issues.

The #BetterBR Facebook group was created to spread awareness and facilitate dialogue between Baton Rouge citizens and stakeholders on issues affecting the city.

A secondary purpose of the group was to use the traffic generated by members of the group to conduct research and collect data to draw conclusions about the level of concern a Baton Rouge resident places on certain issues taking into account their income, education, and other socioeconomic factors.

The group was created in February and has since grown to 274 members including college students, full-time, working residents and entrepreneurs, as well as media journalists and public officials.

This presentation aims to provide high level background information on the various topics that were discussed in the Facebook group Building a Better Baton Rouge.

Disclaimer: This report does not intend to be an exhaustive source of information concerning each topic. It is meant to be used for broad, informational purposes only.

Economic Development in North Baton Rouge

  • Many residents describe north Baton Rouge as a barren and desolate area with extremely limited opportunities for advancement.
  • Unlike the southern area of Baton Rouge that is flourishing with businesses, convenient access to healthcare, and entertainment venues, north Baton Rouge is marked with abandoned business, vacant residential properties, isolation from urgent care, extremely limited access to fresh and healthy foods (also known as a food desert), and poverty.
  • The poverty and lack of development evident in north Baton Rouge gives way to crime and youth with nothing productive to do outside of school
  • Critics suggest that with Baton Rouge’s only airport being located in the north Baton Rouge, the area has the potential to be a hotspot for hotels and shopping centers for folks flying into the city – instead those flying in have to drive 10 miles south to see the highlights of the city

“This is what an average individual would see,” Barrow says while driving south on Scotland Avenue on a recent grey, drizzly morning in Scotlandville. “Blighted properties over there. You’ve got a rundown car wash right here. … Another closed-down business. See the conditions of those houses over there? Waking up in something like that does something to your psyche.” – Dezmion Barrow; entrepreneur, president of Next Generation Pioneers, North Baton Rouge resident, fatherDEZ

Source: Baton Rouge Business Report https://www.businessreport.com/business/political-attention-turning-toward-underdeveloped-north-baton-rouge-challenges-abound-sustainable-economic-development-distressed-areas
  • North Baton Rouge is denoted by the red portion of the map below
  • North Baton Rouge is bordered roughly by Thomas Road (north), Evangeline (south), the Mississippi River (west), and the city limits (east)
  • Population: ~38,000
BR MAPSource: Baton Rouge Police Department http://brgov.com/reports/public/pmapsel.asp

New Developments in Economic Development

  • East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council override Mayor Kip Holden’s veto of the Economic Development District 
    • State Rep. Regina Barrow has been at the forefront of getting legislation passed to create an economic development district for north Baton Rouge (The Advocate)
    • Mayor Kip Holden is strongly opposed the plan because of concerns that developers are not interested in north Baton Rouge and it will cause the city to go “bankrupt behind the scene” due to tax breaks

Members of the group described the contrast between the two sides of town as “night and die”.

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  • The stark disparity in economic development between the north and south is quantifiable in the economic contrasts between the two area
  • 35% of people are living below poverty in north Baton Rouge, compared to only 3.5% in south Baton Rouge
  • Median household income for South Baton Rouge is $86,879, which is 251% more than the median household income for north Baton Rouge $24,723
Source: Taylor Simien’s Tableau https://public.tableau.com/profile/taylor3391#!/vizhome/shared/YKTWBRQ5P

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Access to Healthcare

  • Since the state closed Earl K. Long Memorial Hospital in 2013 thousands of Medicaid and uninsured patients from the low-income, inner city have relied on the Mid City ER as their primary health care provider which is contrary to its direct purpose as emergency care only
  • Since the closing of the Baton Rouge Mid-City emergency room in 2015, many residents of north Baton Rouge and mid-city have been displaced from urgent care and healthcare facilities
  • Baton Rouge General Bluebonnet campus and Our Lady of the Lake are currently the only two hospitals in Baton Rouge and they are both located in southern Baton Rouge, leaving the rest of the city with a 20-35 minute drive to emergency care which is potentially life threatening in extreme cases

Brief Background

  • In 2012, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration began restructuring the state’s charity hospital system in terms of how it reimburses institutions for providing charity care which resulted in the closing of outdated, state-owned facilities such as Earl K. Long and partnered with Our Lady of the Lake to become the area’s teaching hospital for LSU medical residents
  • With expectations of more people going to OLOL for urgent care, the hospital received the majority of the Medicaid dollars and state dollars for treating the uninsured
  • The major issue is that most people continued to seek care from BRG Mid-City as it was most convenient, causing the emergency room to incur a ~$2 million dollar budget deficit which eventually led to the closing of the ER

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Picture of former secretary of the State Department of Health and Hospitals speaking at rally in protest of the closure of the emergency room at Baton Rouge General Mid City. Taken by Marsha Shuler of The Advocate

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Picture of former Earl K. Long Hospital on Airline Hwy in north Baton Rouge taken by The Rouge Collection

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Wealth & Income Inequality

  • The racial wealth gap in the United States is currently the highest it has been since 1989, where the difference in wealth between white and black families is $131,000
  • The racial wealth gap was developed by hundreds of years of policy that kept African-Americans out of America’s vast economic growth (ex. Slavery, Jim Crow, housing discrimination, unequal pay, etc.)
  • Today, the wealth disparity affects the opportunities, privileges, and at times basic human rights afforded to blacks and Latin Americans.
  • Research conducted by Princeton University shows that there is a direct link between contemporary economic inequality and rising incarceration among African-American men
Source: Economic Inequality and the Rise in U.S. Imprisonment by Western, Kleykamp, & Rosenfield  https://www.russellsage.org/sites/all/files/u4/Western,%20Kleykamp,%20%26%20Rosenfeld_Economic%20Inequality%20and%20the%20Rise%20in%20US%20Imprisonment.pdf

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Source: Pew Research Center http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/12/racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession/

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  • The median household income for white households in Baton Rouge is $58,182, which is more than double the median household income for black households ($27,622).
  • White households have increased income by 10% more than black households from 2000 to 2013, while Asian households have experienced the steepest increase of 42.6%
Source: City Data http://www.city-data.com/city/Baton-Rouge-Louisiana.html
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White Households

Aggregate Household Income: ~$3.09 billion

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Black Households

Aggregate Household Income: ~$1.88 billion

Considering that blacks make up 55% of the population of Baton Rouge compared to only 36% of whites, blacks have an aggregate income that is less than two thirds of whites’ aggregate income.

Source: City Data http://www.city-data.com/city/Baton-Rouge-Louisiana.html

Predatory Lending

Predatory lending is described as the action of short-term consumer lenders who prey on financially unsophisticated poor people and ensnare them in extremely expensive loans with an average APR of 470%. Loans become predatory when payday lenders lend to borrowers through five or more transactions a year. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group, 91% of payday loans fit this description (Knize, Louisiana Law Review 2009).

“These people are barely making ends meet; [they] will go to one of these [payday lending] places for what they think is a quick fix and find out that it’s a nightmare. They never get out from under it.” – H.C. Klein, Founder Arkansans Against Abusive Predatory Lending

Source: Payday Lending in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas: Toward Effective Protections for Borrowers http://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6275&context=lalrev

The Predatory Lending Cycle

  • Individuals who are short on cash and don’t have access to credit by traditional means (banks, credit cards, etc.) seek short-term loans from payday lenders because they will accept them, albeit for exponentially higher interest rates and financing fees.
  • Because the individual did not have enough money originally, they pay back the entire loan plus interest and fees and end up not having enough money to pay other bills.
  • This causes the person to refinance their existing loan with a second loan and commence the payday lending cycle

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Source: Louisiana Budget Project http://www.labudget.org/lbp/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Payday-Lenders.pdf

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Source: Louisiana Budget Project http://www.labudget.org/lbp/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Payday-Lenders.pdf

Education Budget Cuts

  • College students in the group were very concerned about budget cuts in higher education as they would experience direct effects
  • People fear that more cuts in education will be detrimental to SU and LSU, as well as causing Louisiana to be pushed further behind the rest of the country in terms of education and retaining college graduates in the state (college graduates tend to leave Louisiana for better employment opportunities)
  • Students receiving TOPS are at jeopardy of having to pay a substantially higher amount for school than they have been used to

Louisiana college students express that TOPS either played a key role in their decision to attend an in-state institution or is the only reason they are able to attend college

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Findings from Social Media Group Study

  • The results from the study concluded that the vast majority of people with an annual household income less than $20,000 are primary concerned with three main issues: access to healthcare, income & wealth inequality, and economic development in north Baton Rouge.
  • The same population of respondents with annual household incomes greater than $20,000 year stated that that their three primary concerns were access to healthcare, economic development in north Baton Rouge, and education budget cuts.
  • Conclusion: there was no major difference detected between the primary issue concerns of Baton Rouge citizens considering income level, according to the survey.
  • A key factor contributing to the results could potentially be that all of the respondents were African-American. An extension of this study could include surveying a more ethnically diverse population to yield different sets of concerns.