Monday, June 27, 2011

Brack catalogs evidence of state leaders' failures

It is always a pleasure to read work by Andy Brack, publisher of the "Statehouse Report" and occasional columns elsewhere, because his notes are run through with two interests: Educating South Carolinians about the state of their state, and motivating them to do better -- which often means, like it or not, exhorting them quietly to elect more conscientious, rather than simply committed, leaders.

"Conscientious" and "committed" mean two different things.

We've had our fill of leaders who were committed without being conscientious. They committed our state from its earliest years to a legacy of ignominy, and a quick survey of our state's highest-ranking electeds shows a who's-who of leaders in that mold.

We have a dearth, however, of conscientious leaders. Often in our history, the most conscientious of our leaders have gained office by accident and lost office at the next election. Or they've been trapped in a system designed purposefully to keep conscientious voices as quiet as possible.

Our wealth of committed and wholly unconscientious leadership can be measured, of course, by the state's treatment of its citizens. By "citizens," we include everyone who qualifies for that definition, not merely the old aristocratic meaning of the word: the wealthy, the landowning, the well-bred and genteelly-heeled.

In a note published in the Sumter Item, Brack catalogs those measurements.

Over the last three years, life in South Carolina has gotten slightly - but not significantly - better if you look at the latest demographic statistics. Despite some slight improvements, the state continues to have big challenges in education, health care, poverty and crime. Fortunately, we're not on the very bottom of most lists, as highlighted below:

No. 1 - South Carolina continues to lead the nation in violent crime, according to a 2011 Census report based on 2007 data. Domestic violence - the number of women killed by men - has dropped from seventh worst to ninth worst at 1.69 deaths per 100,000, according to the Violence Policy Center.

No. 2 and No. 3 - South Carolina ranked second worst in its SAT scores in 2010, according to the Commonwealth Foundation. While this is a slight drop, this measure is questionable because 18 of the 20 states with the best rates had participation rates of 7 percent or less, while 66 percent of South Carolina's students took the test. In other words, the cream of the crop in the best states took the SAT, while a majority of South Carolina's students did, which means comparisons are apples to oranges. On a better note, South Carolina's teachers ranked best in the nation in teacher quality, according to Education Week magazine in 2010.

No. 4 - The state ranks fourth worst in the percentage of babies born prematurely, the same ranking as a couple of years back. But in an encouraging trend, the rate - 14.3 percent - is improved by 1.3 percent, according to a March of Dimes study.

No. 5 - South Carolina shows up fifth highest on three health measures:

- Infant mortality. The rate is 8.6 infants per 1,000 infants dying, according to 2007 data. Earlier, the state ranked fourth highest.

- Low birthweight babies. Some 10.1 percent of Palmetto State babies are born with low weights, according to a 2010 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

- Stroke. The state continues to rank fifth highest in stroke, but the death rate has gone from 58.5 victims to 57.6 victims per 100,000 people, according to the American Heart Association.

No. 6 - The state is the sixth worst place in the country for kids to grow up in, according to a 2010 KidsCount report. Still, that's an improvement over the #5 ranking from two years ago.

No. 7 - The state comes in seventh twice:

- Child deaths. South Carolina has the seventh highest rate of child deaths at 25 per 100,000 children. That's four slots worse than a couple of years ago, according to KidsCount.

- Unemployment. In May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina had a 10 percent unemployment rate, almost twice what it was three years ago, but still better than just a few months back.

No. 8 - The state is eighth on two big measures:

- Tobacco prevention. SC is tied for eighth in how much money it spent on tobacco prevention ($3.2 million a year, according to a June 2010 report from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.) The good news? We used to be first. And the state's cigarette tax (57 cents per pack) is no longer the lowest in the nation, which averages $1.34 per pack.

- Diabetes. Some 10 percent of South Carolina adults have been told they have diabetes, the eighth highest average, according to a recent report by the Trust for America's Health.

No. 9 - The Palmetto State ranks ninth in two ways:

- Obesity. Slightly under 30 percent of South Carolina's adults are obese. That's better than the #7 ranking from two years ago. Then, however, 28.4 percent of residents were obese.

- Poverty. Some 15.7 percent of individuals in South Carolina live in poverty, tied with Alabama, according to 2011 Census data. But 22 percent of the state's children live in poverty, according KidsCount - the 11th highest number in the country.

Just about any way you cut the numbers, South Carolina still has a long way to go. Policymakers should take note.

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