Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Can't we beat this???

States can be a lot like people. Operating philosophies produce certain results. Neglect tends toward tragedy and amazingly disturbing outcomes.

Here's how bad things are in Texas these days: The Dallas Morning News ran a multi-page, feature report in its Points section last Sunday with the headline, "The bottom line" (December 23, 2007, 1P, 4-10P) chronicling the social nightmare that is playing out in the overly proud Lone Star State.

Want a study in the extended consequences of "trickle down," laissez-faire public policy?

Come to Texas.

The state is a model of how not to do it in just about every category related to the prevention and relief of human suffering and societal injustice. Talk about the power of a system gone wrong.

Here's how the editorial board of paper leads the story:

"Hidden among Texas' great abundance--the booming businesses and mega-malls--are statistics that all of us would just as soon ignore. But the state can't afford to forget the faces behind those numbers. . . . No liberal blog or legislator is spinning these numbers. In fact, they aren't even new. They are simply compiled from statistics published by sources including the Texas state comptroller's office, the U. S. Census Bureau and other government agencies. . . . Looking at the statistics, it's almost impossible to comprehend how a state with such a healthy bottom line has crashed to the bottom in so many social areas. How many lives must be ruined before we get the picture?"

Consider the facts, just the facts, about Texas:
  • A child is born in poverty every 7 minutes
  • A child is abused or neglected every 10 minutes
  • First in teen births and the most repeat teen births in the U. S.
  • 25% of Texas' children are born into poverty
  • 49th in the number of working poor (that is, Texas is second in the number of people who work and remain poor)
  • $14,700--the average annual income of the poorest 20% of Texas families
  • $203,200--average annual income of the richest 5% of Texas families (13.8 times as high as the poorest 20%)
  • 16% of Texans live with hunger or in fear of starvation, just ahead of New Mexico and Mississippi
  • 48th in the nation in state and local government expenditures for public welfare--$808 per capita
  • Second highest Gross Domestic Product in the U. S.
  • Number 1 in cancerous emissions into the air and toxic chemicals into the water.
  • Ranks 50th in the number of insured people in the nation--5.5 million Texans are not covered by health insurance or 24% of the population (compared to 15.7% for the U. S.)
  • 1st in the U. S. in executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976
  • 2nd highest incarceration rate
  • 60% of children under Texas Youth Commission supervision come from low-income families
  • 83% of these children have IQs below 100
  • 41% experience serious mental health issues
  • 52% come from families with a history of criminal behavior
  • 76% have parents who are separated or never married
  • 34% of Texas high school students drop out--8th highest in the U. S.
  • 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math
  • Texas ranks 41st in per capita spending on students in public schools, compared to 25th in 1999. [Did I hear someone say, "No child left behind"?]
  • 8th largest GDP in the world--$1.1 trillion in 2006
  • 1st in number of shopping malls in the nation
  • 12th in church or synagogue attendance

Not a pretty picture.

If I'm a Texas preacher today, I figure I have a few things to bring up with my congregation.

If I'm a Texas legislator, after I take a long look at myself in the mirror, I figure I've got a few things to work on.

If I'm a citizen of the state, and I am, I figure I need to be engaged at several levels.



Odgie said...

Sad statistics indeed. However, I bet most states have similarly appalling numbers in many of the same areas and in a few others as well. For instance, my beloved Virginia ranks 48th in the country in expenditures for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, and there is no excuse for this. Maybe all of us, as concerned citizens and believers, need to resolve to spend more time in 2008 fighting a good fight for "the least of these."

Frank Bellizzi said...

My home, Amarillo, seems to be representative of the Texas these numbers describe. My wife is a fourth-grade teacher in the poorest school in town. She's doing important work very well. But we sometimes get discouraged by the things she sees and hears from her students.

I don't preach every Sunday anymore, but I used to. When I saw your words about preachers bringing up such realities to their congregations, you have to know what I thought: Fat chance. The fact is, with very few exceptions, today's preachers in Churches of Christ, including me, don't have much practice in connecting issues of poverty or child welfare to "church work."

I know, I know. How can this be? I don't understand all of the social and political history behind these realities. But I do know that those are the facts. The short answer to my question is, We've spent far too much of our time creating and defending arguments about instrumental music and qualifications for elders, etc. while neglecting what Jesus called the weightier matters of the law. We must repent.

Cole M. French said...

Jesus was poor and homeless.

Larry James said...

Cole, your point? Are you suggesting Jesus wouldn't care about these horrid numbers?