CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Census Bureau will release figures this week on how many Americans have health insurance and live in poverty, and Texans will see if their state continues to rank among the worst in the nation.
Figures released last year showed that 25 percent of Texans — or 6 million people — did not have health insurance in 2011 despite one of the strongest economies in the country.
In addition to health insurance rates, the bureau will release the latest income and poverty statistics from the American Community Survey on Thursday. Texas has consistently had one of the highest poverty rates in the nation — 18.5 percent living below the poverty level in 2011 — despite a fast-growing economy and lower-than-average unemployment. More than a quarter of all Texas children lived in poverty in 2011.
The new statistics will add to the debate over who has benefited from what Republican politicians call “the Texas Miracle” of weathering the Great Recession without the severe unemployment experienced in other states.
The new 2012 statistics are unlikely to change dramatically from the last release, but they are significant because they will be the first to show what’s happened since the recession ended. Both sides of the political divide will also use these statistics in their campaigns over the next 14 months.
Gov. Rick Perry and other top Republican officeholders have used the state’s growing economy as proof that their policies of low taxes, light regulation and minimal lawsuits work. They blame the high rate of uninsured and corresponding high poverty rate on the influx of people moving to Texas and the state’s location along the Mexican border, which has among the highest poverty rates in the nation.
Democrats, on the other hand, see these problems as the fruits of crony capitalism that allow big corporations to exploit workers by denying benefits or higher wages. They argue the Legislature’s cuts to health care and education are exacerbating income inequality, which could lead to greater social and economic problems down the road.
The Census Bureau’s numbers could also provide insight into how to address these problems.
Perry says that government programs will not solve these issues. He argues that the best way to reduce poverty and the rate of uninsured is to give people good jobs created by private companies in a free market.
Since the Great Recession began in 2008, Texas has added more jobs than every other state in the nation combined. These new statistics could reveal whether the free market is reducing these problems.
Democrats, meanwhile, argue that health and poverty are intertwined, and one directly impacts the other. They want to see the state fully adopt President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, to include expanding the government’s health program for the poor and disabled to include the working poor.
An economic analysis funded by the Center for Public Policy Priorities found that for every $1 spent to expand Medicaid, the state would see $1.29 in new revenue from increased economic activity, making the expansion an overall benefit to the state budget.
Political consultants will also examine the demographics of poverty and health insurance. Hispanics, the fastest growing ethnic group in Texas, suffer disproportionately — about one in three — from poverty and lack of health insurance.
Both parties have launched major outreach campaigns to the Hispanic community pitching their very different approaches to reducing these problems.
Census numbers are only one means of tracking the health of Texas, but they will certainly attract a lot of attention in the week ahead.