Texas, Our Texas, Badly Divided on Poverty Lines

Texas, Our Texas! all hail the mighty State!

Texas, Our Texas! so wonderful so great!

Boldest and grandest, withstanding ev’ry test

O Empire wide and glorious, you stand supremely blest.

I love Texas. I was born, reared, educated and raised my family right here in the Lone Star State. But through the years, I have come to understand things are not so “wonderful and great” as we sing and brag. It seems there are really two states of Texans who live within the same borders but experience very different citizenships and lifestyles.

The first group boasts of our unsurpassed accolades. Texas has the fastest population growth, most job gains, most exports, more miles of roads than any state and ranks first in crude oil, farms, ranches, cattle, sheep, goats, cotton and watermelons.

It even has the tallest capitol building in the country, including Washington, D.C. It’s even the home of the “live music capital of the world” and Dr Pepper. To listen to the governor’s office assessment and area politicians, things could not be better in Texas. “It’s not bragging if it’s true,” state Rep. Rob Orr and state Sen. Brian Birdwell proclaimed in their State of the State address.

But there is another Texas that is not doing so well. Currently, 1 in 5 live in poverty, 1 in 4 doesn’t have health care and 1 in 5 children lives with hunger.

“Texas is not a good place to be poor, and there is little political appetite for change,” leading Texas economist Ray Perryman of Waco said. According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, “In Texas, 49.8 percent of households are liquid-asset poor, compared to 43.5 percent in the nation as a whole.” The report also ranks Texas 42nd for its percentage of low-wage jobs at 27.8 percent. “Texas had long had a philosophy of limited government and an aversion to spending on social services, an attitude intensified by the current political environment.”

According to the non-partisan Center For Public Policy Priorites (CPPP), Texas ranks at the bottom of services for the mentally ill and 49th in public assistance and Medicaid with one of the highest percentages of residents without health insurance.

With expenditures for public school students at 48th in the nation, Texas’ long-term impact on our high drop-out rate is reflected in the fact that Texas ranks dead last in the percentage of the population that graduated from high school and first in the number of prisoners.

Fifty-five percent of women living in Texas are minorities and 37 percent of them are Latinas, according to a report of the Texas Women’s Foundation “2014 Economic Issues for Women in Texas.” “As in most parts of the world, women are the face of poverty,” Dawson Thompson said. “In Texas, 30 percent of households are headed by a woman, and they represent 53 percent of households living in poverty.”

While both groups of Texans generally acknowledge a Christian legacy, one group tends to focus on their privileges with personal rights through independence and hard work, usually seeing their wealth and opportunity as blessings from God. The other seems to focus on biblical themes of broken systems of injustice and selfishness that marginalize them, while the rich get richer in those systems. Instead of pointing fingers from disparate presuppositions, compassionate dialogue and listening could help overcome misunderstanding and blame. We need a whole Texas.

Last year, several of us from around the state came together to create the Texas Christian Community Development Network, an organization committed to bringing awareness, training, networking and advocacy for the poor.

Based on the biblical mandate, “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9), our goal is to help Texans of faith, both the “haves and have-nots,” to address the issues that our political leaders have become gridlocked around.

On Oct. 15-17, our annual “No Need Among You Conference” (www.nnay.org) will be held in Austin, with outstanding speakers, workshops and tours. There will be a special focus on advocacy to help Texans of faith learn how to navigate the hostile waters of politics and make a difference for the poor in our state.

Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco/Mission World and pastor of the famous Church Under the Bridge, is president of the Texas Christian Community Development Network. He is an adjunct professor at Baylor University. 

Originally Posted in Waco Tribune Herald:  July 20, 2014 | JIMMY DORRELL Board of Contributors

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