The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 23rd annual Kids Count Data Book, which looks at a variety of measures of child well-being in four areas: Economic, Education, Health and Family and Community.
Overall, the number of children in poverty has risen by 16 percent in the last five years; the number of children whose parents lack secure employment is up by 22 percent. The number of teens not in school and not working has risen by 11 percent and 41 percent of American children live in families with a high housing cost burden (more than one-third of total income).
There is good news, though: The number of children who have health insurance has risen 20 percent despite the number of parents who lost insurance because they lost their jobs, thanks to increased government coverage for children.
In 16 states, the percent of children lacking health coverage was 5 percent or less in 2010. Massachusetts and Vermont had the lowest rate, 2 percent, compared to a high of 17 percent in Nevada and 14 percent in Texas.
The number of low birth-weight babies has stayed the same for the last several years, partly because Medicaid covers pregnant women, so women are getting the prenatal care they need. Child and teen deaths per 100,000 population are down 16 percent, again because of the increased access to care.
The report found an alarming rate of childhood obesity, which fuels the Type 2 diabetes epidemic and leaves children much more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke as adults. Much of this comes from the lack of access to healthy food in many low-income areas, both urban and rural. Families rely on cheap processed food, and children are less healthy as a result.
In overall child well-being, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and Minnesota ranked the top five, and Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked at the bottom.
In health, it was Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Washington and New Jersey in the top five and Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Mississippi, New Mexico and Montana at the bottom.
It's obvious if you follow this report every year -- which I do -- that when the government decided to work to improve people's lives, good things happen. When children gain access to health care, when women get decent prenatal care, we get lower death tolls at all ages.
Because Medicaid eligibility varies from state to state, so does its effectiveness. The more people who are able to access health care, the better the scores on health and overall well-being. Education results also show a direct correlation to funding levels, including teacher pay and benefits.
Areas of high poverty have higher rates of child illness
My sister, Ellen, with a few of her favorite things -- her karate suit (she had a black belt), beer, a cigarette and the Christmas tree that took up half her living room.
Today began my sister, Ellen's, favorite season. From Thanksgiving until mid-January, Ellen decorated, cooked and entertained.
It was right about this time -- late afternoon the day before Thanksgiving -- that I called her every year.
Me: So, how many are you cooking for this year?
Ellen: 24, I think. You?
She was born the day after Christmas, 1949. I came along three years later and we had a fierce sibling rivalry that became a half-joke when we became adults. She was the consummate practical joker, and she loved the holiday season more than anything. She loved a challenge, she loved camping -- if that's what you want to call going into the woods in a 30-foot house on wheels. She loved good beer and cheap wine, crocheting and knitting and gardening.
After my father died in 1990, the family winter party moved to her house in mid-January, the perfect way to wrap up the season.
Ellen died of lung cancer six years ago this past July, and the day before Thanksgiving is changed. In fact, it really didn't hit me full in the face that she was gone until the day before Thanksgiving that year. I came home from work and started working on the apple pie and the cranberry bread and it just felt empty.
When Rob came home and asked how I was doing, I just fell apart.
When we found out Mike was dying a year and a half later, we all knew Ellen would come fetch him home. Her daughter, Shannon, and I laughed about how she wouldn't let anyone else do it. She was bossy (comes from being the firstborn, I understand), and Shannon and I could almost see her, hands on hips, saying "He's my nephew, dammit! I'll go get him!" Mike reached out and called her name
So, this is the day I think of Ellen. I will never be her equal in entertaining. I will never be as good a practical joker.
But Ellen, wherever you are -- and I suspect you're with Mike -- you should know I still make the best apple pie.
Although some governors are still saying they want nothing do do with the Affordable Care Act, it will move forward.
Despite the secession petitions, health reform will move forward.
There will be those corporate hacks who try to get out of offering health care benefits by reducing people's work hours -- especially big-box stores and restaurant chains like Wal-Mart and Papa John's Pizza.
State governments can refuse to expand Medicaid, leaving millions without access to care.
All of it reminds me of my grandson having a temper tantrum when he was 3 and his mother wouldn't replace his "broken" slice of cheese with a new one.
I came across him screaming on the kitchen floor and asked what was wrong. In his whiniest, most pathetic voice, he whimpered, "My cheese is broken and Mama won't give me a new one."
"We don't waste food like that," I said. "That piece is perfectly good."
He started kicking and screaming again and I just stepped over him and walked away. After a few minutes, he stopped screaming and ate the "broken" cheese.
Opponents of Obamacare are acting like spoiled 3-year-olds and we need to stop paying attention to them and move ahead. They won't stay behind for long because they hate being ignored, and public pressure will force them to move ahead.
When Medicaid was enacted in 1965, only six states opted in. It didn't take long for the pressure became too much and the other states opted in.
The thing about the expansion is that it doesn't even affect state budgets for three years; after that, states pay only 10 percent.
The sad truth, though, is that much, much more is at stake than a broken piece of cheese.
Several states have refused to build insurance benefits exchanges, the marketplaces where consumers will shop for insurance. They say they don't want the federal government dictating to them. So, in what one might call a bit of irony, the federal government will step in and create -- and operate -- exchanges in those states.
I can't boycott my state (North Carolina), which went totally red this election, but I can try to educate legislators about the importance of caring for people.
I can, however, boycott businesses that act like 3-year-old children, and I plan to do just that. I would love to see Papa John's go out of business because customers stay away in droves.
The good news, though, is that the Affordable Care Act won't be repealed. Nearly half the states are moving forward with health benefits exchanges (see the graphic), others have said they will work in partnership with the federal government (including North Carolina).
In 2014, millions more people will have a choice and those CEOs and state politicians who are resisting will no longer be relevant.
I won't stop advocating for universal access to care, but the Affordable Care Act is a big step toward that goal. I feel like I have stepped over my grandsh
We've had a busy couple of weeks. what with the election, Mike's and my birthday and our annual dinner and auction, Eat at Mike's. It was exhausting but worth it. I kind of think of Eat at Mike's as the WNC Health Advocates birthday party. It was our first event, beginning just after we became an official nonprofit in 2009.
But now it's time to get back to the work of fighting for access to health care for all Americans.
Already, the lame duck legislature in Ohio is voting to defund Planned Parenthood the agency that provides affordable health care to millions of low- and moderate-income women. I used it as my main health care provider when my kids were little and I didn't have health insurance.
This isn't about abortion; this is about hurting women and children, who need healthy parents.
Employers, angry at having their candidates lose the election, are firing employees because they don't want to provide health care. The owner of Papa John's Pizza, who lives in a castle surrounded by a moat and can afford to give away 2 million pizzas in a football-related promotion, can't stand the thought of having to pay for health insurance for the people who work for him, so he will cut the hours of people who are already living on the edge rather than allow them to be eligible for coverage.
The corporation that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster had announced it will do the same thing.
A franchise owner of Applebee's will also cut hours and fir employees.
I wrote to Applebee's about this and they sent me a reply saying it's not their decision because the man has free speech. Well, he's using his free speech to make their corporation look bad, and if that's OK with Applebee's, then I'm OK with never setting foot in one of their restaurants again. Companies can fire people who make them look bad, free speech or not. Their business depends on their good name.
My solution to all this is to avoid eating in any corporate-owned restaurant. I will eat in locally owned establishments and I will contribute to local economies. With smart phones and GPS devices able to display lists of local restaurants and reviews in any town in the country, I see no need to ever contribute to these greedy corporate types ever again.
Yes, I'm very happy President Obama won. I think we stand the best chance of improving our health care system under his guidance.
That said, I want to add that I will try not to post anything obnoxious on Facebook or Twitter today. I've seen a few things that are amusing to me, but I have friends who are upset this morning and I see no need to antagonize them. I did share something about Donald Trump, but he's fair game as far as I'm concerned.
Most of all, I am relieved that Obamacare is safe. By the time the next presidential election rolls around it will be fully in place. It is not everything we need, but 30 million people will gain access to health care, and that, as Joe Biden said, is a "big f...ing deal."
My own state of North Carolina went completely red last night, and that disappoints me because I foresee more cuts to health care, especially mental health care, and more cuts to the social safety net.
On Sunday, I listened to The Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo preach at my church. Dr. Campolo is a founder of Red Letter Christians -- people who look to the words of Jesus for their values. The red print contains a lot of talk about mercy, about helping the poor and marginalized.
Jesus never said,
"I got mine, get your own!"
What he did say was, "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do also for me."
So, when a young man asked me yesterday which candidate I thought best embodied Christian values, I told him to look for the person who embraces the poor.
There aren't a lot of candidates even talking about the poor and the sick and how we can help them, so it's up to us to start that conversation and keep it going.
Let's leave gloating and hard feelings aside and work together to make life better.