Some states have long defined poverty in America.
Georgia and its Appalachian region. Virginia and the dying coal industry. And Mississippi, with the vestiges of the bigotry that fueled the civil rights movement.
But Kansas and Missouri have generally been excluded from that ignominious list, at least since the Great Depression.
Yet Kansas was recently ranked the fourth worst state to live in if you’re poor. And Missouri came in fifth.
The side-by-side rankings are a serious indictment. They speak to dismissive and limited views that paint people without economic means as entirely responsible for their struggles, too lazy to provide, too lackadaisical to value education.
The truth is more complicated, as this study by RewardExpert illustrates well. Georgia, Virginia and Mississippi took first, second and third-place dishonors.
“Aside from a low cost of living and low median monthly rents, Kansas shows little love for its low-income residents,” the report noted.
Virtually the same was said about Missouri.
The study is interesting in part because of the analytics used. The company looked at 22 factors to make the calculations, assessing everything from federal and state social programs and assistance, the availability of help to pay utility bills, unemployment insurance and tax structures.
Kansas’ Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects people from having their car seized, was one of the few safeguards to help the poor.
Missouri’s Medicaid income cutoff of 22 percent of the federal poverty line (Kansas sets it at 38 percent) was deemed “ridiculous.” That’s even lower than the cutoffs in the three worst states for the poor, the study found.
Missouri’s income tax code was also singled out for being “particularly regressive” for married couples, with a top tax rate of 5 percent “that kicks in at an absurdly low annual income of $9,000 for individuals and couples alike.”
Kansas, the report noted, sets the minimum wage at the federal level, $7.25 an hour. The state was also criticized for lacking a law to ensure that workers have a right to family medical leave, leaving parents susceptible to being fired for caring for their loved ones in times of emergency.
Clearly, attitudes about the poor are evident in both states’ laws and policies.
And yet too often, low-income individuals’ needs are viewed not as a public policy issue but rather as a matter of charity. Politicians, civic leaders and the voting public all play a role in the plight of the poor.