Thanksgiving weekend is no time to be dwelling on Donald Trump’s picks for his Cabinet. Nor is it a time to consider the bigger issue — the deep divide in this country, and the acrimony among neighbors. Many people I know just cannot talk about politics. They are exhausted, and they are also hesitant to bring up the subject, for fear sparks will fly.
Rather, this is a time to reflect on non-political issues. And since I have lived my entire life in the “Golden Ghetto,” aka Johnson County, I’d like to do a little reflecting on that community and how things are going in Nirvana.
I get two regular sets of reports, which tell the tale of two counties.
The first, from the County Economic Research Institute, paints a picture of economic prosperity. Every economic gauge you can measure is looking good. Unemployment is very low. Residential building permits are on the rise, as are the prices of resale residential real estate. Retail sales are on the upswing, even with online retailers competing hard. Business confidence and consumer confidence are both up.
All the while, there are lots of folks in this la-la land who cannot afford to put a turkey on the table.
United Community Services of Johnson County (UCS), which keeps track of the data and the trends of the poor in the county, reports that the landscape of Johnson County has changed dramatically over the past few decades. In just the last 15 years, the number of people in poverty in the county has doubled. More and more workers are employed in jobs that pay minimum wage. The safety nets are inadequate, mostly a result of cutbacks in services by the state.
We know the numbers because UCS is keeping score of poverty in the county and then coordinating planning with community groups. UCS plays a unique role in our county. Since 1967, this organization has been tracking the dramatic changes in the well-being of county residents.
Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to note that there are more than 28,000 children in Johnson County who live in poverty or in low-income households. One in four children in Johnson County public schools participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
One in three jobs in Johnson County pays less than $15 an hour. It’s hard to live on that, particularly if you reside in Johnson County where housing is more expensive.
While Thanksgiving is a time to remember those who do not have plenty, it is also a time to take stock of what is working well for the poor in Johnson County.
First of all, child poverty in the county decreased last year, which is a hopeful sign, but we still need to be mindful of long-term trends.
Almost 100 percent of children in Johnson County have health insurance coverage. Approximately three out of four children are covered by private insurance.
The most current 2015 data shows that Johnson County uninsured rate has dropped to 5 percent, but that figure soars to 17 percent for households with income below $25,000. Many groups, including UCS, support the expansion of Medicaid — or KanCare — to ensure better coverage results for low income families in Johnson County.
An astounding 90 percent of pregnant women receive prenatal care. And the infant mortality rate is only 5 percent, and that represents a small decline in the last five years.
So, there is some upbeat news to contemplate over the holiday season.
You can take your pick on what you would like to think about — economic dynamism, growing poverty over the long term or all the human services that are or are not available to those in need.
I pick all three. They sure beat dwelling on politics these days.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: email@example.com