Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rome News-Tribune: Georgia is "plainly heading in the wrong direction" on poverty

A few weeks ago, the census bureau released some interesting statistics concerning poverty, employement rates, and healthcare. I blogged about these, see "What Have Republicans Done For Georgia Lately?"

Well the editorial staff of the Rome News-Tribune has sounded off on the subject. They agree that the trends are what's disturbing about Georgia's number. Since George W. Bush took office in 2001 and Sonny Perdue followed in 2003, Georgia's "heading in the wrong direction."

The editors state that "government doesn't cause poverty." That's certainly true, at least in part. But it's hard not to notice that Georgia's downward trends start with the changes in our national and state government. Whereas, previously, Georgia was heading in a different direction under different leadership. Just something to think about.............

The wrong direction

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IN THIS POCKET of comparative prosperity, sight can easily be lost that the State of Georgia’s economic picture can look pretty glum depending on where one is. Maybe this is not Buckhead, but it’s sure not South Georgia either.
Come to think of it, one’s geographic point of view may well determine if one believes the latest Census Bureau figures about the state’s poverty and medically uninsured levels.

Both, it appears, are increasing faster than in most other states.

For example, the number of those without medical insurance in Georgia climbed from 1.5 million in 2004 to 1.7 million in 2005. That’s 200,000, or double the population of Floyd County. Georgia is now tied for eighth among the states for having the most uninsured as percentage of population — 18.1 percent.

As for poverty in Georgia, it’s up to 14.4 percent after the third straight year of increases after it had fallen to 11.2 percent in 2002. The national average is currently 12.6 percent. Georgia now ranks among the top four states is having the fastest rate of increase in poverty.

NUMBERS LIKE these, along with typically miserable rankings in levels of educational attainment, explain much about why Georgia’s economic salesmen have an increasingly more difficult time attracting prospects. These trends certainly do little to back up the claims of “the New South” being the new land of milk and honey. It’s usually fairly hard to make money in places where more and more people have less and less of it to spend.

Still, it is equally disturbing to note that these official definitions of “poverty” and “no medical coverage” are hurled about without ever being put in perspective. There probably needs to be some sort of “misery index” to replace them — and misery is very much relative.

For example, federal poverty numbers are based on income and governmental benefits are not counted — not food stamps, not welfare, not subsidized housing and so forth. Similarly, “uninsured” does not mean uncared for as the ballooning size of Medicaid and indigent-care costs clearly attest.

This is not to say that being of very low income, or jobless, is comfortable or that having no medical coverage isn’t a nerve-wracking time of the heavy, heavy hangs over your head variety. It is only meant to point out that in the United States, the richest nation on the globe, misery is very much relative and more uncomfortable than truly agonizing.

THERE’S CONSIDERABLE truth to the old anti-welfare adage that the poor in America are better off than the rich in many Third World countries. They are.
You can be poor in Georgia and have a telephone, a TV set and even a car. You can be uninsured yet have a personal physician who knows you by name, even if it is at a public clinic.

Poverty and medical access are being defined in terms of what the majority, “the rest of us,” have and not so much by what is absolutely unavailable.

When’s the last time you read about someone having starved to death in this country? That’s only possible if they don’t know about the food banks and soup kitchens. When’s the last time the news reported someone bleeding to death on the sidewalk as hundreds of passersby stepped over him because if they called for help nobody would come?

Without dismissing the very real emotional and psychological upset that’s involved in finding one’s self in those distressing poverty/uninsured percentages, what’s most troubling about the latest Georgia numbers is the trend.

The state is plainly heading in the wrong direction. Unless corrected, that will wind up being bad for everybody. That’s why such numbers deserve attention, and should be seen as a call to action.

AND NO, not simply action by the politicians although the public should wish they weren’t so consistently trying to look for silver linings in dark clouds.

Government doesn’t cause poverty. It doesn’t remove medical insurance. Yet it is somehow expected to “fix” such things even though all of us hold some responsibility for them, including often considerable personal responsibility for winding up as part of the bad statistics.

Nonetheless, these numbers are regularly tossed out and receive the usual tut-tutting and little else. That’s not going to repair a thing.

Poverty and lack of medical insurance are a burden borne by all, as the bottom line on tax bills should make plain.

Even more troubling, although certainly nothing new, is the way the poverty figures break down racially. While 14.4 percent of all Georgians live in poverty, the number for whites alone is 8.8 percent. For Hispanics it is 20 percent; for blacks, 24.9 percent.

In America, the land of opportunity, things should only get better and better and such numbers never reflect they’re getting worse and worse. If that doesn’t deeply trouble you, it should.


Tina said...

It is to no one's advantage (and that includes republicans) for this state (and country) to have an impoverished undereducated underemployed underclass. That way lies becoming a third world country. Democracy and morality depend on giving a hand up to the needy and offering opportunities for education, employment, and advancement. As for hard work--that's great, and I agree that people should earn what they receive.... but let's not mythologize too much about it. I've worked hard all my life and truly don't see a consistent correlation between the difficulty of the work and the level of pay! And there are, of course, plenty of wealthy people who never have hit the proverbial lick at a snake so far as actual toil is concerned.
A civilized society helps meet the basic needs of its citizens and helps provide opportunities for them to better themselves. To argue otherwise is simply mean-spirited.

ET said...

Those are terrible figures. If the numbers were reversed, going an upward trend of more people with medical insurance and more people with jobs, the governmental powers would certainly take credit.
But what do you expect from a state that ranks 48th in the nation on quality education?

Button Gwinnett said...

I very much agree Tina. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. But government should always play a role in making sure that people have equal chances regardless of our unique situations.

And Eddie, you're right when you say that our government officials take credit for these things when the trends are good. Just look at Gov. Perdue taking credit for GA's rise in placement of states in SAT scores. Even though he conventiently leaves out the fact that we haven't improved much, and our rankings are due to the fact that several other states saw their scores drop.

It definitely works both ways.