Economic, policy factors making life tough for Texas children

September 20th, 2011 at 10:38 am

WACO — Children are not doing well in Texas, at least many are not. That’s the picture painted by Francis Deviney during the “No Need Among You” conference Friday, Sept. 16, in Waco.

Deviney, director of the Texas Kids Count program at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, painted a statistical picture of the plight of children in Texas.  But, “it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the people behind the numbers,” she said.

The “No Need Among You” conference each year attracts leaders of Christian ministries from around the state. It is sponsored by nine organizations, including the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Baylor University School of Social Work, Buckner International, Baptist University of the Américas and Waco Regional Baptist Association.

Speaking to the ministry leaders, Deviney said, “The work you guys are doing is critical, but you can’t do it alone.” She works with public policy responses to issues related to children. “We have to have additional solutions to support you so that you do not get overrun.”

Texas Kids Count is part of a broad national effort funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It has sought to collect data about the actual situation of children so lawmakers and others will not have to rely simply on anecdotal information in making decisions. And that situation is greatly affected by the economic situation.

The statistics cited by Deviney include the following:

  • In the United States, 2.4 million kids have become poor since 2000. Of those, one of every six lives in Texas. “We have a much greater share of the poor,” Deviney said. When a household falls into poverty, children are exposed to increased parental distress, inadequate childcare, poor nutrition and negative health outcomes.
  • Nine percent of Texas children (607,000) had at least one unemployed parent in 2010, a figure that is up from five percent (303,000) in 2007. The number has doubled, and unemployment means lost income and lost health insurance.
  • Texas added nearly 281,000 jobs from 2007 to 2010, but the Texas working-age population grew by 22.5 percent, twice the national rate. The result has been higher unemployment even with the increase in the number of jobs.
  • Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of low-wage jobs in the country. “The majority of people living in poverty are working full time,” Deviney said.
  • Housing costs hit the poor hard. Low-income homeowners spend an average of 53 percent of their income on housing, compared to six percent among higher income families. And among renters, low-income households spend 71 percent on housing compared to two percent by higher income households. This is a “huge divide,” she said.
  • Texas had the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation for 11 straight years, through 2008. They gave up that top ranking one year, then gained it back in 2010, Deviney said.
  • Education is not good for Texas kids either. Texas is fifth lowest in per pupil expenditures in 2011, and this year’s legislature cut funding more. Texas also is in the bottom quarter of states for reading proficiency, which is the skill which makes other learning possible.
  • Texas has a regressive tax policy because of its heavy dependence on sales taxes. It’s regressive because the lowest income households pay the highest percentage of state and local taxes. Households below $29,233 annual income paid 13.7 percent of their income toward taxes, while households with income above $126,460 paid 3.6 percent of their income.

Deviney’s Center for Public Policy Priorities is setting forth a “two-generation strategy” for addressing the problems related to Texas children. CPPP desires to put families on a “path to economic success,” she said.

Families can be strengthened on the policy side by strengthening two federal programs – Earned Income Tax Credits and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), Deviney said. Also, health care needs to be more affordable and accessible, since medical expenses are the number one reason for bankruptcies.

The poor need to be encouraged to increase savings and be made aware of “tax time savings tools,” she said. And finally, they need protection from the predatory practices of payday lenders.

“Help children to reach their full potential,” Deviney said, by supporting “responsible parenthood,” increasing prenatal care for mothers-to-be, ensuring children are developmentally ready for school and promoting reading proficiency by the end of the third grade.

“We know that success can occur,” she said. “We just have to … consider what our priorities are.” Bringing jobs to Texas is critical, but low-paying jobs are not a long-term solution. Texas needs to “create a space for families to succeed.”

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