What’s the Matter With Kansas? Hint: It’s Not About Abortion


This article was updated at 2:11 pm EST on Saturday, July 2nd, 2011.

Given the relentless focus of anti-choice extremists Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas legislature on cutting funding for and attacking women’s reproductive health care, it could only be assumed that everything else in Kansas must be fine and dandy.

But what the GOP and Tea Party majorities do not want you to know is that the picture is pretty bleak and they have done, and appear ready to do, next to nothing to solve critical problems facing the state.

Kansans, for example, are becoming poorer. A U.S. Census Bureau study found that the rate of growth in poverty in Kansas outpaced that of the nation writ large.  In 2009, poverty in the state rose 3 percent, as opposed to 1 percent nationwide.  More than 365,000 Kansans live in poverty.

The share of Kansans living in extreme poverty also outpaced the national average, increasing by 1.1. percent as opposed to 0.7 percent for the nation as a whole.  The Census Bureau found there were 153,756 Kansans–5.6 percent of the population–living in extreme poverty in 2009.

The rate of increase in child poverty in Kansas was nearly double that of the United States as a whole. The share of children in Kansas living in poverty increased from 14 percent in 2008 to 17.2 percent in 2009, putting the number of Kansas children living in poverty at 118,029 in 2009. By contrast, child poverty rose 1.9 percent that same year across the country as a whole.

While the Kansas legislature focuses incessantly on ways of denying women access to contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies and to seek early abortion when facing an untenable pregnancy, actual living children in the state are growing up in circumstances known to have life-long deleterious effects.

“When children grow up in poverty,” notes a report by Kansas Action for Children, “there are lasting negative consequences for them and for society as a whole.”

While we need to always be aware of the risk of overgeneralizing, children growing up poor are more likely to be exposed to circumstances that increase the chance for bad outcomes, including: parents with low levels of education; experiencing chronic stress; moving frequently; going hungry; and inadequate health care. A large body of research has documented the consequences of those circumstances. Child poverty has been linked to poor academic outcomes and increased likelihood of dropping out of high school; higher risk of teen pregnancy; behavioral problems and lower self-esteem; lower incomes as adults; and greater health problems as children and as adults.

Child poverty, continues KAC, is associated with “social and financial cost[s] that all of us bear. [C]hildren growing up in poverty are somewhat more likely to have lower earnings as adults than do non-poor children, and are also somewhat more likely to be involved in crime and to have poorer health. These outcomes mean less overall productivity for the nation, as well as higher health care and criminal justice costs.”

Researchers who analyzed and aggregated these costs concluded, based on conservative assumptions, that they add up to $500 billion a year, or close to 4% of gross domestic product. In other words, this is money that would be added to the national economy if we eliminated

Meanwhile, the virulently anti-choice Kansas Governor and legislature are presiding over a state that, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, ranks 17th among states in the share of babies born at low birthweight, 27th among states in spending per pupil, and 40th among states in its infant mortality rate, i.e. among those states with the worst record on babies dying at birth.

What is the plan to address these issues? Well, for a start the governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 eliminated funding for 16 Head Start Programs, early education programs proven to assist low-income and poor children in getting just that… a head start on learning opportunities, education and nutrition.  The cuts were later partially restored, according to the Kansas Health Institute:

The budget plan spared cuts in state grants to community mental health centers and assured funding for some popular children’s programs such as Early Head Start, Tiny-K and Parents as Teachers.

But the deal failed to restore the full $8.3 million needed to keep whole a variety of other child development programs funded through the Children’s Initiative Fund which is financed by declining dollars received in settlement from major tobacco companies.

In the end child development programs were cut by some $2 million.

Nearly 15 percent of the Kansas population is uninsured and has little access to health care. Apparently, the legislature missed the memo on these problems because they have instead been busy voting to slash funds for primary health care, including primary reproductive health care in addition to cuts in reimbursement rates. Roughly 276,000 people in the state depend on Medicaid, a third of which are children.  Rather than raising revenues to help sustain and increase access to health care, the legislature and governor cut Medicaid reimbursement rates to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers by 10 percent, ensuring that fewer and fewer providers will be available to see Medicaid patients.

Brownback’s overall economic strategy mirrors precisely that of the far right in the U.S. Congress: cut taxes for the wealthy, cut invesments in children, the poor and the middle class, and make cuts to the public employee pension system, government services and other investments that once made our country work effectively.

Meanwhile, there appears to be no dearth of funding to defend one after another anti-choice bill in court.  It is estimated that defending South Dakota’s most recent anti-choice legislation, for example, could cost that state anywhere from $1.7 million to $4 million dollars.  Assuming relatively similar yardstick for defending anti-choice laws in Kansas, and assuming even just the lower end of that range means the government will spend about as much defending laws taking away women’s rights as they cut from the budget needed to provide health care and other services to poor children.

It’s no wonder then that, according to the Topeka Capitol-Journal, Democrats in the House and Senate have accused the Republican majority of fixating on bills imposing new regulation on voting, gambling, abortion and adult entertainment rather than seriously addressing reform tied to job growth.

Rep. Judy Loganbill, D-Wichita, said the economic relevance of the GOP’s agenda could be summed up in simple terms. 

“Zip,” she said. “Nothing.”

So the real problem with Kansas appears to be that the state government leadership has no idea what the real problems are, and no plan to fix the very real hunger, poverty, joblessness and other daily challenges being faced by the living, breathing, sentient citizens of the state.  And they claim terminating an unintended and untenable pregnancy is immoral?

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