WHILE JOB growth in South Carolina isn’t as rosy as Gov. Nikki Haley’s camp paints it out to be, it’s absolutely true that things have picked up significantly and that her pro-growth stance has helped.
But Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt’s recent column on our commentary page, which makes a strong pitch that Gov. Haley’s efforts have boosted South Carolina’s economy and increased opportunity, goes a bridge too far when he writes that “By any measure, South Carolina is on a roll.”
South Carolina? On a roll? By any measure? Not by a long shot. And it’s not going to get on a roll until those who lead our state get serious about helping the less fortunate of our citizens — those trapped at the bottom of the literacy ladder, those trapped at the bottom of the health-care ladder, those trapped at the bottom of the wage ladder — climb out of their state of despair.
Unfortunately, too few politicians on the campaign trail — whether they’re vying for governor or legislative seats — are talking in a comprehensive way about providing our neediest citizens a hand up. No doubt, one reason for that might be that this isn’t a constituency that will guarantee votes or campaign donations.
But if we can help the less fortunate pull themselves up, they can help South Carolina turn its fortunes around.
We can paint as sunny a picture as we want, but the conditions on the ground for the poorest, neediest and most vulnerable among us are horrible:
• The S.C. Department of Social Services is imploding. A report by the Legislative Audit Council revealed that the agency isn’t in a position to carry out its mission effectively.
— More than half of caseworkers statewide had caseloads above the number recommended by national experts.
— Between July 1, 2013, and May 31, DSS delayed investigating 281 reports of abuse or neglect for more than 24 hours, contrary to state law; in 2013, nearly a quarter of children reported to be victims were not seen in person by an agency staffer within 24 hours, an agency goal.
— From 2011 through 2013, turnover among DSS caseworkers exceeded 65 percent. From 2011 through 2014, turnover among county directors was more than 58 percent.
We can’t protect our children. But we’re on a roll?
• The continued refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has left upwards of 300,000 people without health-care coverage. Gov. Haley has pledged never to accept expansion of Medicaid, declaring it would lead to wasteful spending.
We’ve lost two years in which the federal government would have paid 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid; one year remains, after which the feds will pay 90 percent and the states 10 percent. Just because South Carolina isn’t taking the money doesn’t mean we’re not paying the taxes that are funding Medicaid expansion in other states.
• U.S. Census data released last month showed that South Carolina’s poverty rate remained the ninth highest in the nation. The percentage of South Carolinians classified as in poverty during the 12-month data period between 2012 and 2013 rose from 18.3 percent to 18.6 percent; that’s comfortably above the national average of 15.8 percent. In 2013, more than 860,000 South Carolinians lived below the poverty threshold, which for a family of four amounted to $23,550 in annual household income. Nearly one in three children under 18 is living in poverty.
• A few years ago, much was made about making South Carolina more competitive and helping state workers by increasing per capita income. When the talk started, S.C. workers were making about 20 percent less than their peers across the nation. That hasn’t changed: S.C. workers remain among the poorest in the nation. Census data show per capita income in South Carolina — in 2012 dollars — at $23,906 while the national average is $28,051.
And let’s not forget that, we’re still the state where the quality of education a child gets is determined by what ZIP code he lives in and where poor school districts that lack the tax base and resources to offer quality instruction must sue in hopes of forcing the Legislature to allocate funding so they can offer students an opportunity to get a quality education.
Yet the biggest deficit we have in South Carolina is in the area of leadership. Who’s able or willing to take on the tough issues that will change the trajectory of our state? Yes, some are willing to take on an issue or two, but few will tackle the lot of them, because if they do, then they have to talk about not only solutions but how to pay for those fixes. But that’s what leaders do: Articulate the vision, get people to have the tough conversations and then convince them to work together to go places they never dreamed they could reach.
Our state will never reach its full potential if we allow so many South Carolinians to remain among our nation’s poorest, least educated and unhealthiest — on a steady roll down hill, taking the rest of us with them.
Reach Mr. Bolton
at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.