Tag Archives: red states

For Goodness Sakes, Indiana!

A couple of years ago, Indiana geniuses came up with the motto “Honest to goodness, Indiana!” After reading this scorching–and utterly accurate–description of what passes for governing in my state, I think that motto should be “For goodness sakes, Indiana!”

The article by Aaron Wren in Governing  magazine looked at the traditional Red state tactics that brought disaster to Kansas and failed to improve economies in Red states generally. When Wren focused on Indiana, he laid out the state’s current status and the roots of our declining wellbeing.

Or look at Indiana. It has had Republican governors since 2005 and full Republican control of the state for over a decade. Its leadership loves to boast that its growth rate in population and jobs beats surrounding states, but that’s a low hurdle to jump. In reality, most of Indiana is stagnating or declining. Over half of the state’s counties are losing population, and the forecast for the prime working age population is grim: Virtually the entire state is projected to have a declining workforce in coming years. Indiana’s per capita income is only 86.2 percent of the national average, and that’s lower than it was when the GOP took over the governorship and the Legislature. Under Republican management, the state started out poor and got even poorer.

Why these poor results in states with the full panoply of red state best practices? It’s because the entire philosophy of governance in Kansas, Indiana and quite a few other Republican states is based on a fundamentally mistaken view of progress. Rather than investing to build up the skills and enhance the well-being of their citizens, they engaged in a race down to the bottom as a strategy to attract corporations.

Wren doesn’t simply make an assertion–he provides examples.

When local media reported on the horrific situations faced by many local renters, Indianapolis responded by passing an ordinance that required landlords to provide tenants with a list of their rights– including the right to have “functional plumbing, safe wiring and heat in the winter.” Indiana’s legislature just overturned that ordinance, as part of the legislature’s ongoing refusal to respect local control, and–as Wren says–at the behest of the property owners’ lobby.

Indiana is a great place to be a slumlord, but not such a good place to be a citizen who rents.

The article points out that this example is just one of many.  The state’s nursing home industry has so many negatives, it has become, Wren says, “a giant scam.” He recounts how hospitals in the state used ownership of nursing facilities to overbill Medicare and siphon over a billion dollars from those homes. The money was used to fund building projects and generous salaries for hospital executives. Meanwhile, Indiana ranks 48th in nursing home staffing, and more than 20 percent of nursing home patients with COVID died (the national rate is 13 percent).

How did our legislature respond? It passed a bill providing expansive immunity from liability for nursing homes and other businesses.

In addition to overturning tenant protections, Indiana has flirted with canceling a transit expansion in Indianapolis that has been supported overwhelmingly by the voters, and gutted a bill that would have required employers to provide basic accommodations to pregnant women. (Expectant mothers can now ask for accommodations, but employers don’t have to actually provide any). Perusing the list of bills working their way through the state Legislature, it’s hard to see much that could even plausibly make a material improvement in the life of Hoosier citizens.

Wren points out that the most important factor in attracting high-wage employers is the availability of a skilled labor force – talent. What he doesn’t mention is the Indiana legislature’s continuing assault on public education, and the negative effects of that assault on efforts to produce a skilled labor force. Instead, the Republicans who have dominated state government continue to siphon dollars from public schools in favor of private, mostly religious schools via the nation’s largest voucher program.

Aaron Wren is no bleeding-heart liberal. When he lived in Indianapolis, I knew him slightly, and followed his observations on local governance. He was pro-business in the better sense of that term, supportive of governance that created a business-friendly environment, but highly critical of the crony capitalism that continues to characterize Republican politics in Indiana.

So long as Indiana’s gerrymandered districts continue to weight rural votes over urban ones, we will continue to rank among the bottom of states in numerous categories, and we’ll continue to have what the late Harrison Ullmann called “the world’s worst legislature.”

For goodness sakes, Indiana!

Red States, Blue States…And Death Rates

The other day, during a political discussion (these days, pretty much every discussion gets political) my youngest son wondered aloud whether it had been a mistake to win the Civil War. The red states of the South have been an economic drag on the blue states for a long time–they send significantly fewer dollars to Washington than they receive courtesy of blue state largesse.

My son was being flip, but his characterization of Red and Blue states wasn’t far off. As Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column in the New York Times, “the political divide is also, increasingly, an economic divide.”

Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education. But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output. In the close election of 2016, counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.

Evidently, however, we don’t just live in different economies–lately, we also die differently.

Back in the Bush years I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.

The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation. True, a recent Times article on the phenomenon noted that life expectancy in coastal metropolitan areas is still rising about as fast as life expectancy in other advanced countries. But the regional divide goes deeper than that.

It turns out that the “death divide” Krugman is addressing is closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

There are a number of possible explanations: blue states expanded Medicaid while most red states didn’t, for example. The gap in educational levels is probably implicated as well; better-educated people tend to be healthier than the less educated, for a number of reasons.

Krugman also notes differences in behavior and lifestyle that affect mortality. (Although obesity has dramatically increased all across America, obesity rates are significantly higher in red states.)

Krugman references–and debunks–conservative explanations for the death divide:

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

But European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy. And even within America these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump, and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states.

Although he doesn’t mention it, I’d also be interested in seeing a comparison of gun deaths in Red and Blue states.

Actually, conservatives like Barr inadvertently make a point: culture and values matter. Just not the way they think.