Human Capital Development Trends in Louisiana Since 1990

Figure 1. High School Diploma and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment: Louisiana, the South, and the United States.

Figure 2. High School Diploma Attainment in Louisiana by Race and Location.

Source: United Health Foundation State Health Rankings +=improvement,-=decline, * means 1990 and 2004 not comparable. Bold = above national average

Mark J. Schafer and Tim Brown

For decades, globalization and advances in information and communications technology have been creating two different kinds of jobs in the United States. Primary sector jobs are high-skilled, high-paying, stable, interesting and offer opportunities for advancement. Secondary sector jobs are low-skilled, low-paying, unsecured, monotonous and offer few opportunities to advance.
States that develop or attract primary-sector jobs have higher levels of human capital – a more educated, healthier and more skilled workforce. To achieve these goals, states must effectively address disparities in human capital attainment across racial lines and between wealthy and poor regions. Louisiana must continue to develop its human capital to compete in the changing, global economy. Human capital is a broad concept referring to workers’ skills, knowledge, talents, ability and training; but in the current age, two specific factors have dominated research in human capital: formal educational attainment and health care.


Education levels in the United States and across the globe have increased dramatically over the past half century. The good jobs of the future will need workers with higher levels of education. Two benchmarks in educational attainment that are particularly important measures of human capital are the high school diploma and the four-year college (bachelor’s) degree.

Figure 1 compares Louisiana’s educational attainment trends of the population aged 25 and older from 1990 to 2000 to the southern and national averages. The figure shows that Louisiana trailed the South and the nation at both high school and college benchmarks. Louisiana did attain above average gains in the number of adults with high school diplomas. On the other hand, despite a 16 percent gain in four-year college attainment, Louisiana’s gains were not as strong as either the southern or national averages. So, the evidence is mixed. Louisiana showed absolute gains in both education benchmarks, caught up to the southern and national averages at the high school level, but fell behind at the college level.

Figure 2 presents racial and regional differences in high school attainment across the state. The average parish high school attainment increased from 62 percent in 1990 to 70 percent in 2000. Louisiana parishes saw greatest gains in black high school attainment, yet black attainment still trailed white attainment by nearly 20 percentage points (56 percent versus 75 percent) by 2000. Moreover, urban parishes had above average high school attainment levels, while rural parishes saw greater attainment gains. Whites in urban parishes had the highest high school attainment levels at 79 percent (a rate on par with southern and national averages). The data for bachelor’s degree attainment (not shown) reveal similar findings. Urban and white rates exceed while rural and black rates trail the overall state averages. However, white (and urban) rates also showed greater gains relative to black (and rural) rates, indicating a deepening of inequalities in Louisiana’s human capital as measured by completion of a bachelor’s degree.

Health Care

Although the human capital concept has been equated with education in the United States, research in developing societies has highlighted the important link between health care and national development. This relationship is beginning to get renewed attention within the United States as well, due in part to our system of employment-based health insurance. Health is not as easily measured as educational attainment, but one nonprofit organization, the United Health Foundation, annually ranks states according to 18 indicators consisting of 12 health risk factors and six health outcomes. On this summary measure of state health, Louisiana has fared poorly, ranking 50th every year since 1990 except in 2003, when it ranked 49th.

Table 1 presents each indicator, Louisiana’s score on each indicator for 1990 and 2004, and the direction of change from 1990 to 2004. The bold numbers in the 2004 column indicate Louisiana’s score was greater than the national average. Louisiana has made positive changes in nine indicators and outcomes. Smoking, motor vehicle deaths, violent crime, lack of insurance, children in poverty, occupational fatalities, limited activity, cardiovascular deaths and infant mortality have all been reduced. On the negative side, Louisiana had more obesity, lower four-year high school graduation rates, more cancer deaths, higher total mortality and more premature deaths in 2004 than in 1990. Louisiana’s only indicator more favorable than the national average is adequacy of prenatal care. Although not shown on the chart, the risk factors and health outcomes vary, like educational attainment, across racial lines and between urban and rural parts of the state.

Louisiana has been developing its human capital, but the progress has not proceeded equally on all fronts. While the state has outpaced the national average in high school attainment, it has lagged behind in four-year college attainment. While progress has been made on some components of health care, others have declined. To make more substantive progress, Louisiana must deal effectively with its internal inequality in educational attainment and health across racial lines and between urban and rural areas.

Mark Schafer, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, LSU AgCenter; and Tim Brown, graduate student, Department of Sociology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
1/5/2006 10:21:10 PM
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