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2008 Kids Count report: poverty on the rise in Tennessee, press ignores the reason why

compiled by Lewis Loflin

If we look at the press reports (extracts) below, like that of Kids Count in general, we get the usual calls for more government spending, more government programs, and on and on like the last ten years. Those ten years have yielded zero results in real terms for most poor people, many with even a high school diploma or even college.

We have calls for more education, while studies show it's neither desired by business and college graduates only leave the state to seek jobs.

If I compare Tennessee to Virginia, several factors become clear: Virginia has a much higher income level than Tennessee and more college graduates. It's also clear most of those degrees are in government jobs or government funded jobs, not private sector. It's also clear that Tennessee has a vast and well educated blue-collar workforce, and a huge shortage of white collar jobs.

Over 90% of the Tennessee workforce has at least a high school diploma, almost one-third have a bachelors degree or above. Yet wages are depressed and business yells skilled labor shortage. They don't want college graduates, and import massive numbers of illiterate Mexicans.

My conclusions are thus:

Most college graduates end up as doctors, lawyers, or in some form government employment. Tennessee with it's regressive almost 10% sales tax and no income tax, can't generate the government jobs Virginia does with state and federal jobs in the D.C. region leading the way. Immigration, in particular illegal immigration, devastates wages for the working class, whose only salvation in manufacturing continues to decline.

The real problem in Tennessee is the business climate and political culture. Being "business friendly" equates to worker hostile, be it unemployment benefits, enforcing labor laws, or allowing open fraud to hire illegal labor. To quote the Knoxville News Sentinel on an illegal alien that nearly killed two people:

"His employer not only turned a blind eye to the illegal status of his workers but was complicit in their crime, adopting a method of payment that minimized the risk of an incriminating paper trail...When Mr. Diaz-Mourillo would be paid, he would be given a card which could be taken to his employer's bank and money would be provided to him...He certainly was not the only illegal alien working on these jobs, and his impression was that this was known by the employers."

Because of political correctness from liberals and the lack of unions in Tennessee, we get double talk from the press. See Illegal Alien Driver pleads guilty to wrong-way wreck, illegal employers to blame

Also see Electrolux and Illegal Aliens in Tennessee.

2008 Kids Count report a mixed bag

June 11, 2008

The state's high school dropout rate plummeted 45 percent, from 11 percent in 2000 to 6 percent in 2006. Nationally, the dropout rate improved 36 percent during the same time frame...Tennessee also ranked in the bottom 10 in four of the 10 indicators measured: Percentage of children living in poverty, percentage of low birthweight babies and 45th for infant mortality and teen birth rates.

So what do all the numbers mean? Well, it means that despite some problems, Tennessee is headed in the right direction. According to Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee's Kids Count grantee: "Tennessee has implemented good public policies and strategies to improve outcomes for older children resulting in more children graduating from high school and fewer adolescents dying."

Kids Count report shows increased child poverty

WPLN News Transcripts June 12th, 2008

The number of children in poverty in Tennessee increased more than twice as fast as the national average according to the Kids Count Data Book released today. Kids Count ranks the welfare of children and teens in each state using Census Bureau statistics. The report shows that child poverty rates in the state increased 15 percent versus 6 percent nationwide.

Tennessee fared worse in four of the 10 categories, especially those dealing with children in tough economic situations, like those with parents who lack stable employment. The state showed marked improvements in five categories dealing with teens, including high school dropout rates which improved by 45% from 2000 to 2006...Tennessee improved its rank this year, moving up one position to 42nd.

Report shows Tennessee's children still struggling

June 17 Kingsport Times-News extract

A new national report shows Tennessee continues to be an extremely challenging place for children to grow up. For 20 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Maryland nonprofit group, has issued a national Kids Count book that ranks the 50 states...In this year's Kids Count analysis, Tennessee ranked in the bottom 10th of the rankings in four of the 10 areas measured - among them 41st for the percentage of children living in poverty...If the Kids Count study were new, Tennessee's low ranking would be worrisome in its own right. But the nonprofit group has been making these assessments for two decades. upward movement of just three spots in 20 years shows how achingly slow that progress has been and how much more improvement is needed...the statistical portrait the survey paints is not flattering...Clearly, many of the problems plaguing Tennessee's children derive from poverty. This latest Kids Count report relies on information compiled last year.

While money, alone, cannot address all of these problems, it's also true that Tennessee spends less than most states on the services that make a positive difference in the lives of our children...the two decades of Kids Count surveys show ample evidence that this latest marginal uptick may well be only temporary. That's because the destructive social pathologies that nourish these troubling statistics unfortunately continue to receive far too little attention...

The problem is Income

Using data from the Economic Policy Institute Tennessee had the nation's 5th largest income gap. (Virginia was number 11.) According to them; "The very richest families - top 5% - have average incomes 13.9 times as large as the poorest 20 percent of families." Their data shows that between the late 1980s and the mid-2000s:

  • The average income of the poorest fifth of families did not change significantly.
  • The average income of the middle fifth of families increased by $6,613, from $37,054 to $43,667. This is an increase of $389 per year.
  • The average income of the richest fifth of families increased by $27,638, from $86,758 to $114,396. This is an increase of $1,626 per year

But if we adjust for inflation, we get the real shock. For the middle 5th, $37,054 should be $66,795 from 1988 to 2007. But $86,758 adjusted for inflation for from 1988 to 2007 should be $156,395. The reality is everyone was losing income because of inflation. The poor suffered worst of all, but do get a number of government services. So some socialist' redistribution of wealth scheme or massive tax increases won't help. Either cut inflation or boost incomes in particular for lower income workers. The political and social climate in Tennessee (and the country in general) will never allow it. Unless a family can earn a decent living more government programs will not help.

Much of the following unless noted otherwise are extracts are from Kid's Count for Tennessee.

Economists now agree one of the most practical steps for increasing overall prosperity and quality of life would be to ensure all communities are plugged into what experts call the Prosperity Grid, or the supporting infrastructures that make prosperity possible. Quality child care, good schools, well-paying jobs, access to capital and affordable housing are all examples of a well-functioning grid.

For 2006, Tennessee's reported high school graduation rate was 80.8 percent (U.S. Department of Education), with eight in 10 students achieving a high school diploma...Tennessee as the states national ranking has slipped from 41st to 43rd since 2000. Note in 2008 this high number is disputed. See Failure at Virginia High School in Bristol, Virginia

Although Tennessee has seen the same reduction in manufacturing jobs as the rest of the nation, those losses were previously offset by job growth in the construction sector (CFED, 2007). The deflating housing bubble has had minimal effect on housing costs in the state but resulted in slower job growth in the construction sector...Although the construction sector job growth was very strong in 2006, and up by 6 percent in the first quarter of 2007 as a direct result of the residential housing slowdown, a loss of 200 construction jobs in Tennessee was reported in November 2007.

Note that in Tennessee construction jobs are almost entirely illegal aliens such as the one above. The jobs are not going to legal residents.

In 2000, 76 percent of all full time Tennessee workers ages 18-64 were covered by employer-based health insurance. During the same period, 53.5 percent of 0-17 year old children were covered by employer-based health insurance...During 2005 and 2006, the Kaiser Family Institute estimated 71 percent of employees, and 29 percent of children were covered by employer health plans in Tennessee...

One of the most adverse implications of job loss for many families is the loss of employer-based health insurance. The manufacturing sector is especially important because it has the nation's second largest portion of the workforce (government is first) covered by employer based health insurance (plans offered by employers through the workplace), with 73.6 percent of all manufacturing workers having a policy in their own name.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a critical public support that assists workers when they lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Even with a weekly check of $275 in Tennessee, most workers who qualify for UI would not be able to survive on these benefits alone. The graph on page 5 illustrates the basic family budget requirements for a family of four living in cities and rural areas across Tennessee. It clearly presents the need for a job that provides a salary above the minimum wage.

In Nashville, which has the highest monthly basic family budget, an hourly wage of $17.76 would be required to cover the monthly expenses of a family of four. Even if both parents work, each must have income above the current hourly minimum wage ($7.25 in 2014) to meet basic budget requirements anywhere in Tennessee. A table with the details for the basic family budget in Tennessee by area (page 7):

Chattanooga: $2,959
Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol: $2,794
Knoxville: $3,005
Memphis: $3,077
Nashville: $3,130
Rural: $2,656
Monthly Minimum Wage: $2028

Page 16: 27.1 percent of TN children are on food stamps. By race:

white: 58%
black: 41%
latino: 4%
other: 1%

Race in Tennessee; white 80.4%; black 16.9%; Hispanic 3.2% Ref.

Note that Tennessee has one of the highest growth rates for Hispanics in America.

Other data:
42.6% of children on free/reduced lunch.
Child abuse rate went from 4.5% (2002) to 12.2% in 2005.

Now for a real shock: Educational Attainment of the Population 18 Years and Over 2007 (page 32) shows that 99% of Tennessee residents have a high school or greater education. (31.4% bachelors or above.) I found this questionable and double checked. In fact I don't know anyone under the age of 40 without at least high school or greater. This seems a bigger problem with older people.

According to Educational attainment of the labor force and jobless rates, 2003 by Thomas J. Krolik Monthly Labor Review, July, 2004:

Based on age 25 and older for Tennessee and Virginia:

                                         High school   Some college
                       Less than a high   graduates,    or associate
        Area            school diploma    no college       degree

United States                10.2            30.5           27.4
North Carolina               11.8            31.7           27.6
Tennessee                     9.8            35.3           25.4
Virginia                      9.1            28.3           24.8

                       Bachelor's degree
        Area              and higher

United States                32.0
North Carolina               28.8
Tennessee                    29.4
Virginia                     37.8

Table 2. Unemployment rates by educational attainment of the civilian
labor force 25 years and older by State, 2003 annual averages

                                                  High school
                               Less than a high   graduates,
        Area           Total    school diploma    no college

  United States         4.8           8.8             5.5
North Carolina          5.1          10.0             5.8
Tennessee               4.7           8.3             5.3
Virginia                3.0           6.8             3.3

                       Some college
                       or associate   Bachelor's degree
        Area              degree         and higher

United States              4.8               3.1
North Carolina             4.9               2.6
Tennessee                  5.5               2.0
Virginia                   2.8               2.1

My conclusion is if they used 18 instead of 25 and included those 7 years of high school graduates, that would lower the influence of older high school dropouts. The number of Tennessee workers with at least a high school diploma or better is 95%-98%.

Two-Year-Average1 Median Household Income by State: 2004-2006 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division


North Carolina  	43,193
Tennessee  	        40,668
Virginia  	        54,102  	


North Carolina      41,616  	
Tennessee           40,696
Virginia            55,368  	

Three-Year-Average Median Household Income by State:  2004-2006

North Carolina ranked 39 
Tennessee ranked 42
Virginia ranked 10

Why the big difference in Virginia? Massive government spending and government jobs in northern and eastern Virginia. They have jobs that employ college graduates at better pay. Tennessee and North Carolina are blue collar states where wages have been hammered by plant closings and heavy levels of illegal aliens. My conclusion is government spending and employment accounts for the good jobs while the private sector is in a free fall or stagnant. This is the negative impact of mass immigration legal and illegal. In particular this hits those below the level of bachelors degree the hardest.

More of the usual hype:

Strategies are needed to provide Tennessee families with realistic opportunities to earn a living wage. Infrastructure to create more jobs paying higher wages, provide health insurance benefits or increase the skills and marketability of workers would improve the prospects for Tennessee citizens to have a secure future.

New economic research demonstrates that the real benefits of early childhood education are not from making children smarter, but from nurturing the children's non-cognitive skills. It is not just about reading proficiency; it is about social competence.

The state ranking for "Elementary and Secondary Performance" was 40th.

The report includes a "Chance-for-Success Index" that provides clear indications why Tennessee's outcomes do not yet meet the promise of the state's policies and standards. Tennessee's "Chance-for-Success Index" ranking was 45th.


(In 2003) While the focus was on families in rural areas, it became apparent they had more in common with their urban counterparts than anticipated.

Families wanted secure jobs that paid a living wage so they could support their families. Secondly, they wanted their children to have education and employment opportunities they never had. Families knew, if their children had family, educational and social support, the likelihood they would be successful increased many times over.

Low-wage workers who support children and families need the opportunity to increase their assets and build wealth. Children need the security of a home with parents who have stable employment and health insurance.

Half a decade later, little has changed...