Governor Rick Perry and the Republican leadership in Austin have made Texas a rhetorical model for the nation, an economic dynamo that has soared despite the federal government's meddling. Our obsession with low taxes, small government and a lean social safety net has led others call us the best state for business. We call ourselves the best state, period.
Turns out the Texas miracle hasn't been so miraculous for a good chunk of the state's 6.9 million children. According to a Kids Count report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Texas ranks 44th in terms of child well-being, nine slots worse than last year.
"These are two very different stories about the history and future of Texas," said Frances Deviney, who works for the Center for Public Policy Priorities as the state's Kids Count director.
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While it's undoubtedly a good thing that Texas has fared better than many states during the economic downturn, the numbers released today paint a worrying picture, Deviney said. In each of the four areas the Kids Count study measures -- economic well-being, education, health, and family and community -- Texas is below average. For the latter two, Texas is near the very bottom.
The reasons Texas does so poorly are too complex to neatly unpack, but the underlying cause is rampant child poverty. In Texas, one in every four children lives in poverty, compared with one in five nationwide. There are more single-parent households in Texas than elsewhere and twice the rate of teen births, both of which correlate strongly with poverty. Also, kids in Texas more than most places live in pockets of concentrated poverty, which tends to exacerbate negative health, educational and other outcomes associated with being poor.
Texas has made strides in some areas -- the percentage of children without health insurance has dropped considerably, for example -- but in nearly every economic category, things have gotten worse.
Improving the lot of children in Texas will require fairly sweeping policy changes. Working to expand access to health insurance would be a good start, as would an end to draconian cuts to public education and social services. Or, we could just adopt a new slogan: "Texas -- At Least We're Not Mississippi."