Documenting the despair

Documenting the despair

- in Fitzsimon File

Two reports released this week provide more evidence of the growing despair across North Carolina, even as we're told the stock market is rebounding and the economy has turned the corner.

A study by Families USA finds that 185,000 people in North Carolina lost their health insurance in 2009, primarily because of the state's skyrocketing unemployment.  The average unemployment rate in North Carolina for 2008 was 6.3 percent. Through August of 2009, the average was 10.7 percent. Only three states had a bigger increase in their jobless rate. 

Almost two-thirds of people under 65 who have insurance get it through their employer or the employer of a family member.

The reports projects that nearly one in four working-age adults in North Carolina will be uninsured in 2009, a startling number in a state whose leaders have long claimed the mantle of a progressive Southern state.

Even in areas where the trends are improving, it's hard to celebrate much. Despite effective programs to provide health coverage for children, roughly one in ten kids is still not covered.  That's one of the findings in the 2009 Child Health Report Card released this week by Action for Children and the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

Almost one in five students begins kindergarten with untreated tooth decay, which makes sitting still a chore, much less learning. Not surprisingly, half the kids in the state ages 6-14 who are eligible for Medicaid do not get dental care.  More than one in four children ages 5-11 are obese, headed for serious health problems if they don't have them already.

Most disturbing of all is that one of every five of the state's 2.2 million children live in poverty, significantly increasing the odds that they will struggle in school and making it more like that they will leave high school without a diploma.

Policy makers still don't like to talk about it, but poverty remains a powerful predictor of academic performance and high school graduation.  Any serious education reform must include efforts to help families lift themselves out of poverty.

The reports about health care and kids come the same week that advocates for people with a mental illness, developmental disability or addiction asked Governor Beverly Perdue to call a special session of the General Assembly to address the crisis in services that threatens some of the most vulnerable people in the state.

Perdue did find $15 million to replace the latest round of cuts, but it is nowhere near enough and she may be forced to order more reductions if state revenues continue to lag behind projections.

That's the still largely untold story in North Carolina, that working poor families and the children in them weren't doing all that well before the housing bubble burst and the economy fell apart, making the downward spiral of growing unemployment and the loss of health care all the more dire.

A headline on Thursday afternoon announced that "Goldman Sachs' earnings surge falls short of record."  The story reported that the company's third quarter net income tripled to $3.19 billion.  But just short is how the financial press portrays it.

The recovery is here for Wall Street and the people and institutions there that are largely responsible for the economic crash that has made life worse for thousands of struggling families in North Carolina. 

Just short would be a dramatic improvement for them.