The concept of what is considered good news is definitely one of perception and relative to prior conditions the good news is compared to. There was, depending on perspective, a bit of good news for the state of Mississippi this past week, but in relative terms, there is very little for residents, especially children, to celebrate. However, the news should hearten Republicans in Mississippi, and in Congress, because it is further proof their attempt to drive more Americans into poverty and despair is a raging success and they can revel in the news that a rash of other, mostly poor Republican-controlled, Southern states are falling deeper into poverty and it must make Republicans giddy that the greatest amount of their policies’ damage is affecting children they have shown nothing but contempt for over the past four-and-a-half years.
First, the good news for Mississippi is that the most Christian state in the nation is no longer the worst state for children to live. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation that compiles state-by-state statistics on the well-being of children and families in its’ Kids Count Index, after 24 years as the worst state in the nation for children, Mississippi jumped to number 49 overall as New Mexico took over the bottom spot. In January 2013, new state-level data on Medicaid and food-stamp enrollment released by Kaiser Health showed that, unless one is a Republican, there is very little to celebrate because the data provided a very depressing picture for child poverty in the richest nation on the face of the Earth, and it is all according to Republicans’ plans. Doubtless Republicans are cheering the unfathomably bad news for the nation’s children, and Republicans in the bottom five states can celebrate their success at creating a bleak existence for their state’s children.
The data show that despite improvements in education and health nationally, Republicans have accomplished their goal of seriously setting back progress when it comes to the economic well-being of children in Republican-controlled Southern states. It is bad enough that the richest nation on Earth comes in at number 2 in the world with over 23% of its children living in extreme poverty, but the numbers are worse in the bottom five states that, not coincidently, are controlled by Republicans on a path to increase poverty and keep their poorest and youngest residents hungry, homeless, and in ill-health.
In the new worst state for children’s well-being, New Mexico, 31% of children live in extreme poverty and they can be proud their child poverty numbers are slightly better than Mississippi that boasts 32% of its children suffering extreme poverty. In both states the primary reason for dire poverty numbers is that over 37% of the states’ children have parents who lack secure employment and decent wages. New Mexico is only the worst state because Mississippi does not have as high a number of children without healthcare or early childhood education as New Mexico, but the state’s Republicans have a solution to that problem; reject Medicaid expansion, hope Republicans in Congress obstruct President Obama’ early education expansion, legislate larger cuts to education, and of course slash food stamps to make room for oil, religious, banking, and agriculture subsidies as well as corporate and the wealthy’s tax loopholes.
The bottom five states are rounded out by Louisiana, Nevada, and Arizona and each of the five worst states for children have specific commonalities contributing to the bleak prospects for the survival, let alone well-being, of the poorest residents and their children. All of the states, save New Mexico, enacted right to work (for less) laws that contribute to more people in poverty due to pathetic wages while corporations in each state are thriving with record profits. Two of the states, Mississippi and Louisiana, have rejected Medicaid expansion regardless there is no expense to the states until 2017 and then the maximum cost for Mississippi in particular is only 7.6% with the federal government picking up the remaining 92.4% of the expense. In all, there are 13 states not participating in the free expansion and 6 others leaning toward non-participation and to no-one’s surprise, all 19 states are Republican-controlled and more than pleased to prevent millions of their residents, especially children, from benefiting from the most basic healthcare provisions. From a Republican perspective, it likely makes sense to keep the poorest, and youngest, residents in ill-health to go along with daily hunger to round out an existence steeped in suffering and despair.
All of the states, not just the worst for children, are in line for a dose of despair courtesy of House Republicans as they continue to oppose the President’s call to expand early childhood education while they seek new and clever ways to slash education spending. Coupled with cuts to school lunches, food stamps, and health programs, Republicans have put children on par with the ever-growing list of Americans they will either see go hungry, work for poverty wages, or suffer from ill-health to complete their Draconian attack on the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Sadly, that is the good news for America’s poorest citizens because Meals on Wheels, housing and heating assistance for seniors, and assistance for working poor mothers and children are all suffering from the Republican sequester cuts due to increase over the next nine years of a ten-year program to address the phony debt crisis Washington fell hook, line, and sinker for.
Maybe the report Mississippi is not the worst state for children’s well-being, economic or otherwise, is good news from an improvement perspective, but the idea that any child in the richest nation on the planet lives in extreme poverty is an outrage, and for any human being with a conscience it is unacceptable and depressing. It is sad and should send all Americans, especially politicians, into action to remedy the fact that according to an April UNICEF survey of 29 countries, America ranked number 26 in overall child well-being barely above three of the poorest countries in the survey; Lithuania, Latvia and Romania. However, where extreme child poverty is concerned, the wealthiest nation on Earth, America, did even worse coming in at number 28, and it is likely that since Republicans love touting America as being exceptional and number one, will diligently continue driving more children into poverty to claim the crown of richest nation on the planet with the highest rate of children living in extreme poverty.