We’re Fifty-One! We’re Fifty-One!

June 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Update! Update! August 1, 2013

Texas ranks first in the number of least insured counties nationwide, with 22 out of the “top” 30. Yee hah! Texas proud! Another case of cutting off your balls to spite your spank toy, because all of those uninsured folks go to the emergency room when they get sick, where they can’t afford to pay the astronomical bills and we insured Texans pay for it in increased premiums. Thanks, Good Hair, and the rest of your fellow bloody-red goober pals.  But as I have pointed out in other posts, saving a penny to waste a dollar is a Texas lege tradition.

For my own perverse amusement, I used to keep a list of of good things Texas ranked last in, and the bad things Texas ranked first in; e.g., first in workplace deaths and last in individual health insurance coverage. I quit toting up the bad news several years ago when I became satisfied that for millions of people, Texas is one of the crappiest states in the country in which to live, especially during the summer when the AC goes out, or if you’re like several million poor saps, you can’t afford air conditioning.

Now comes news of another glorious last, plus a couple of other close-to-the-bottom-of-the-heap findings.

Texas ranked 51st in voter turnout in 2010 — behind all other states and Washington D.C. — and 49th in the number of citizens who contact public officials, according to a study released by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin and the National Conference on Citizenship.

The state’s slacking continues when it comes to civic participation rates, ranking 43rd in donating and 42nd in volunteering, according to the Texas Civic Health Index.

“Some of the numbers are really surprising — maybe even shocking,” said journalism Professor Regina Lawrence, director of the Annette Strauss Institute, such as that 61.6 percent of voting-eligible Texans reported being registered to vote in 2010 but just 36.4 percent reported voting.

In other words, a “really active one-third” of the voting-eligible population exerts “outsized influence, if you will, on the future of the state,” she said.

And who comprises that “really active one-third?” I ask. To which I answer, the same people who elected Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate and have kept Texas a solidly blood-red state since 1994 (which in itself, is another dubious distinction): mostly older, white Texans. To my knowledge, no other state has failed to elect a Democrat to statewide office for so long period of time, at least in modern history. If I am mistaken, please, please feel free to prove me wrong.

Texas used to be, like most of the South, “yellow-dog” Democrat,  referring to the old joke that folks would stoop to voting for any smelly, flea-bitten yellow cur, as long it was a Democrat. Now it’s full of “pink elephant” Republicans who would vote for a drunken pachyderm hallucination so long as it was Republican.

The study gathered data primarily from the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey on Voting, Volunteering and Civic Engagement.

Consider that in 2012, Texas’ proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage ranked second among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Overall, wage and salary workers earning hourly rates in the state had median hourly earnings of $12 in 2012; nationally, the median was $12.80.The median hourly rates for men and women in Texas in 2012 were $13.05 and $10.84, respectively. For the nation, the comparable figures were $13.88 per hour for men and $11.99 per hour for women.

Further considering that minimum wage jobs are typically among the most physically exhausting in the workplace, and that many minimum wage workers are forced to work two or more jobs to make ends meet, it should come as no surprise that Texas ranks so low in donating or volunteering (although young collegiate Texans score pretty well when it comes to volunteer work).

In 2012, 6.1 million Texas workers were paid by the hour, which means that slightly over 3 million earned $12 an hour or less. Now, someone who works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, without taking a holiday, vacation day or sick day, will gross $24, 960. His or her take-home pay, naturally, will be quite a bit less after taxes, plus the fact that many of these lower-paid workers receive no benefits, including paid holidays, vacation or sick days. At $96 per day, gross pay, anything beyond a handful of unpaid sick days and Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas weekday holidays can put quite a dent into your income; 10 such days can set you back just short of $1000.

Considering that an extremely healthy proportion of new jobs added to the Texas economy during the past decade have been at this lower end of the pay scale, it is obvious that the Texas economic miracle is not all that certain of our state leaders have cracked it up to be. The audacity of their claims would crack me up with laughter, if the reality were not so pitiful. Our fearless leader proudly points out that Texas is a “right to work” state; the more cynical among us might point out that Texas is also a “right to starve” state.

As to why we rank dead last in voter turnout and second from last in contacting public officials, your guess is as good as mine. One of the most obvious possibilities is that a healthy chunk of those non-voters have no faith in state government and their elected officials. Given the track records of our legislature, governor, lieut. governor and attorney general, it’s not a bad guess. There are certainly plenty of young eligible voters who have no faith in the system and the ability of their vote to change it, at from my admittedly unscientific polling.

Perhaps it has to do with reasons previously cited; even a few hours spent away from work voting means money lost, since most low-wage-paying employers don’t generally give paid time off to vote. And as for contacting your elected officials, perhaps it is because they live in a world so far removed from your own that you might as well be trying to talk to the man (or woman) in the Moon. You can’t relate to them any more than they can relate to you. And if you do try to contact them, you’ll probably get no further than a secretary or junior staffer and maybe a meaningless form letter for your efforts.

Study authors also posit that another possible reason for low turnout from these groups is the lack of outreach efforts from both parties to them.

Your guess is as good as mine and theirs; no matter. For whatever reason, we’re dead last in yet another category of honor, so let’s break out the Bud Light and  party ‘til we start seeing them pink elephants. Greg Abbott thirsts for our votes.

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