A Portrait of Louisiana 2020



The cover of A Portrait of Louisiana 2020, featuring a yellow map of the state on a black background.

A Portrait of Louisiana 2020: Human Development in an Age of Uncertainty uses the human development approach and the American Human Development Index to explore well-being and access to opportunity among different groups of Louisianans. It examines a range of critical issues, including health, education, living standards, incarceration, youth disconnection, residential segregation, and inequality. And it makes recommendations about how to expand people’s opportunities, build greater human security, and help communities recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The American Human Development Index (HDI), a supplement to the gross domestic product and other money metrics, tells the story of how ordinary people are doing. The index is based on the Human Development Index developed by the United Nations, the gold standard for measuring the well-being of people in every nation.

This report presents HDI scores for the state as a whole as well as by gender, by race and ethnicity, and by parish. It also contains close-ups on four urban areas: Shreveport, Monroe, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. In addition to the index, this report has a special focus on children and youth and includes a child and youth well-being dashboard that brings together available data on children and young people in a number of key areas.

Kindly note that the values listed for the US Income Index and US HDI in the printed version of the report are incorrect due to an error in adjusting for inflation. The correct US Income Index is 5.11 rather than 5.48, and the correct US HDI is 5.24 rather than 5.37. The figures in the online version of the report and in the data tables are correct. Sincere apologies for this error.




  • Louisiana scores 4.35 out of 10 on the American Human Development Index, nearly a full point below the United States overall, 5.24. All but one of the state’s parishes, as well as three out of its four major racial and ethnic groups, score lower than the US average. Still, Louisiana has made heartening progress since its 2007 HDI score of 3.92, especially in the realm of education: the share of adults without high school diplomas dropped from 20.6 percent to 14.0 percent, and the share of adults with bachelor’s degrees increased from 20.1 percent to 24.3 percent.
  • Unlike in the US overall, women in Louisiana score slightly lower than men. This is due to the state’s wide gender earnings gap—women earn $16,000 less than men, a gap $5,000 larger than in the United States as a whole.
  • Asian Louisianans have the highest HDI score (6.29), followed by white (5.15), Latino (4.62), and Black (2.93) residents. Black Louisianans have both the lowest life expectancy and the lowest median earnings of the four major racial and ethnic groups.

A graphic showing where men and women of each racial and ethnic group fall on the Human Development Index. Yellow figures of men and women standing along a number line indicate that scores range from 2.54 for Black men to 6.29 for Asian Louisianans.

  • East Carroll Parish scores lowest in the state, 1.49, compared to a high of 5.35 in Ascension Parish. The ten highest-scoring parishes are home to medium-to-large cities or their suburbs, whereas the ten lowest-scoring parishes are all made up of small towns and rural areas.
  • The chance of a Louisiana resident being incarcerated is closely connected to the level of human development in their community. The average rate of prison admissions is nearly twice as high in the lowest-scoring parishes as in the highest-scoring ones (about 750 per 100,000 in parishes with HDI scores under 2.50, compared with about 420 per 100,000 in parishes scoring 4.50 and above).
  • Louisiana has the fourth-highest youth disconnection rate in the United States—16.4 percent as compared to the national average of 11.2 percent. Black youth are nearly twice as likely to be disconnected as white youth, 22.3 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively, and Black young men are 1.5 times as likely to be disconnected as Black young women.


A Long and Healthy Lifeheart 

  • A child born in Louisiana today can expect to live for 76.0 years, 2.6 years less than the average US life expectancy.
  • The life expectancies of Louisiana’s Asian and Black residents are more than a decade apart: 87.5 years and 73.4 years, respectively. Latinos and whites fall between the two; Latinos are the second-longest-lived group (84.0 years) and whites are the third (76.8 years).
  • Women in Louisiana can expect to live 78.9 years, six years longer than their male counterparts (73.1 years). There is a 7.3-year difference between Black men and women, driven by the particularly low life expectancy of Black men, 69.5 years.
  • Black men in Louisiana live two years less than Black men in the country as a whole. Contributing to these disparities are the high rates of firearm homicide and infant mortality in Louisiana. The Black infant mortality rate, 10.5 infants per one thousand live births, is more than twice the rate for white Louisianans.
  • Residents of Ascension Parish have the longest life expectancy (76.9 years), and residents of Catahoula Parish have the shortest (69.3 years).


Access to Education

  • Louisiana scores 4.62 out of 10 on the Education Index, which measures school enrollment rates for the population ages 3 to 24 and high school, bachelor’s, and graduate degree attainment rates for adults over 25.
  • Louisiana has made considerable advances over the last decade but is still behind the United States as a whole on many key educational indicators. The greatest gap is in postsecondary education; 24.3 percent of Louisiana adults have a bachelor’s degree compared to 32.6 percent nationwide.
  • Women have higher Education Index scores than men, on average, in Louisiana and in the country as a whole. This is also true in all of Louisiana’s major racial and ethnic group except Asians.
  • Education Index scores range from 1.28 in East Carroll Parish to 5.91 in Lincoln Parish. Orleans Parish comes in second at 5.79, followed by St. Tammany (5.73), East Baton Rouge (5.58), and Lafayette (5.27). With the exception of St. Tammany, the parishes with the highest scores are home to major colleges and universities.

A bar graph comparing the percentage of adults with a Bachelor's degree in Lincoln Parish (36.5%) and East Carroll Parish (8.5%)

  • The parishes that include major urban centers exhibit more striking racial disparities in educational attainment and enrollment than those found in the state as a whole. The gap between Black and white Education Index scores in Louisiana overall is 1.34, but 2.76 in East Baton Rouge Parish and 4.29 in Orleans Parish.
  • Louisiana is ahead of the country overall in preschool enrollment at 51.3 percent, compared to the national rate (47.9 percent). Black children are more likely to be enrolled in preschool than white children (61.1 percent vs. 47.0 percent), likely reflecting the success Head Start and other publicly funded preschool programs in low-income Black communities.


A Decent Standard of Living

  • Median personal earnings for Louisiana workers 16 and over are $31,000, $4,000 less than the US median of $35,000.
  • White workers out-earn workers from other racial and ethnic groups by a wide margin, driven largely by the high earnings of white men. Asian, Latino, and Black workers have similar earnings (ranging from $22,000 to $27,000), while white workers earn nearly $40,000, and white men nearly $50,000.

A bar graph depicting the earnings of men and women of each race and ethnicty. The bar for white men, at nearly $50,000 is much taller than the other bars which range from nearly $20,000 to just over $30,000

  • Men earn more than women in each racial and ethnic group, but the gender gap varies significantly. The earnings gap between Black men and women is the smallest—women earn $0.82 for every dollar men earn, due more to the comparatively low earnings of Black men relative to men of other racial and ethnic groups.
  • Median personal earnings range from $19,470 in Claiborne Parish to $43,678 in Ascension Parish, a more than twofold difference. The highest-earning parishes are clustered in the southeast portion of the state.
  • The percentage of children living in households below the poverty line, also known as the child poverty rate, ranges from a low of 12 percent in Cameron Parish to a high of 73 percent in East Carroll Parish. Only five parishes—Cameron, St. Tammany, Livingston, Ascension, and St. Charles—have child poverty rates below the US average of 18 percent.
  • Black workers earn less than their white counterparts in every parish in Louisiana. The gap ranges from $5,558 in Vernon Parish to $21,412 in West Feliciana Parish.

A scatter plot showing the earnings of black and white workers in each parish vs. the parish's overall median earnings. In every parish, black earnings fall below white earnings.


The HDI scores by parish, census tract, and demographic group presented in this report create a map of pandemic vulnerability; low scores flag areas and groups that were already grappling with threats to their health, access to education, and economic security pre-Covid-19, that were hardest hit during the pandemic, and which face the steepest climb to recovery. Targeting recovery efforts and dollars toward areas and demographic groups with HDI scores below 3.0 will prioritize the places and people who need the most assistance in rebuilding their lives.

Every Louisianan deserves an equal chance at a freely chosen life of value. Our findings suggest that for a host of reasons—residential segregation, poverty, health inequities, slavery’s enduring legacy, persisting racial and gender discrimination, among others—many of Louisiana’s residents are deprived of that opportunity. These problems did not arise by chance, nor were they unavoidable—instead, they are the result of the choices people in power have made, over time, to create and maintain the inequalities that exist today. The good news is that through better choices, real progress is possible: this report details various policies—some of which the state has already put in place—to expand opportunity and close the gaps in health, education, and income. Ultimately, A Portrait of Louisiana is a guide for the state’s communities, advocates, and elected officials to learn exactly where those gaps—and opportunities—exist.