Ken Plum: Virginia’s mixed holiday blessings
Virginians are living through this holiday season with mixed blessings. At least that is the conclusion of the Center for American Progress Action Fund 2012 Annual Report “Tracking Indicators of Poverty and Opportunity in Virginia.”
Nationally the report found that after years of getting worse the U.S. poverty rate remained stable last year. In Virginia the poverty rate is lower than the national average at 11.5 percent, the seventh best rate in the country. Virginia’s population is the 12th highest among the states meaning that nearly a million people live in poverty in the Commonwealth. The American Progress Action Fund’s “Half in Ten” campaign has as a goal cutting the poverty rate in half in a decade.
Virginia fared well on some rankings in the report. Virginia has the second best ranking in the country on the gender gap. Women in Virginia earn 87 percent for every dollar earned by a man doing similar work. While the gap is too wide, it is likely helped by the technology industry in Northern Virginia that is much closer to equal pay for equal work. Virginia has the best ranking nationwide in the foster care system where three children per 1,000 children under age 18 were in the system. Virginia’s success in reducing children in foster care came about in part from the excellent work of former First Lady Anne Holton, wife of former Governor and Senator-elect Tim Kaine.
Virginia has some areas where more work needs to be done. The state ranks 44th in the nation on the availability of affordable housing. Only 57 affordable and available housing units exist for every 100 tenants at or below 50 percent of the median income. The General Assembly meeting in January needs to restore funding to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.
Virginia’s high school graduation rate of 78.4 percent is 20th in the nation. That leaves too many people undereducated and qualifying for only minimal employment and low wages. A review of public alternative education programs is needed to ensure that avenues are available for all students to complete high school.
The number of persons uninsured in Virginia is 12.5 percent of the population ranking the state 21st among the other states. The General Assembly can take positive action to lower this figure by establishing a health insurance exchange to ensure that affordable health care is available in the marketplace. It can also expand Medicaid to cover the more than 400,000 people who will otherwise be left out of the system.
To read the “Half in Ten” Annual Report, go to www.halfinten.org. The holidays give us opportunities to count our blessings and to develop the resolve that all should benefit in these blessings.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.