Last updated: November 07. 2013 12:10PM - 1408 Views
Phil Noble Contributing Columnist



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“More babies are dying in SC.”


That was the banner headline in the Charleston Post and Courier this week.


To me, it was both shocking and impossible to ignore. And I would bet most South Carolinians felt the same way. Unfortunately, to many of our state government political leaders, it was just another day at the office.


Dr. Lisa Waddell of DHEC did get around to saying it was a “reminder that we have real challenges with infant mortality in the state,” but only after she somewhat callously dismissed the latest 3 percent increase as “not statistically significant.”


Fortunately, the state’s infant mortality rate is down substantially from the high of 10.3 per 1,000 live births in 1999 to 7.6 percent today. But that is still way too high; for black infants the rate last year was 20.3 – five times higher than that of white infants, at 3.8 per 1,000 live births. The latest national rate is only 5.9 percent. SC ranks 42nd among the 50 states.


The reality is, by most any objective standard of state government policy and actions, we don’t seem to care much about kids.


The annual study by Kids Count is generally viewed as the most authoritative and comprehensive analysis of the ever-changing status of children. They give South Carolina an overall ranking of 45 among the 50 states.


What baffles me about all this is why the Republicans that have run our state for so long have pursued the current policies, which are just plain stupid when it comes to dollars and sense–cost benefit analysis.


Just for argument’s sake, let’s set aside any discussion of right and wrong, and focus instead on cold-blooded economics.


In recent years, a number of University of Chicago economists have done precisely these types of analyses (most recently, the Heckman and Masterov study) and they have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we as a society (and especially government) should spend more, a lot more, early in a child’s life, particularly between the ages of 0 and 5. In summary, here is what they found:


“Early interventions reduce crimes, promote high school graduation and college attendance, reduce grade repetition and special education costs and help prevent teenage births. They raise achievement as measured by test scores. Very early interventions also appear to raise IQ, especially for girls. Cost-benefit analyses of these programs reported in the literature show that they are cost effective. Estimated rates of return are 16 percent …”


What makes things worse are the negative impacts that result if we don’t invest in children early. A recent Stanford study shows that the “achievement gap” begins as early as 18 months. By age 2, there is a six-month gap, and by the time the child is 5, the gap can be as much as two full years. Kids that are two years behind at age 5 have virtually no chance of ever catching up.


The most tragic thing of all is that our current political leadership in South Carolina just doesn’t get it — or won’t accept it. When Mick Zais was running for superintendent of education in 2010, he was quoted in the media as saying that he did not believe in spending money on 5-year-olds because they were too young to learn. To the best of my knowledge, Zais never disputed this at the time, nor has he repudiated it since.


None of this is new. What these studies and many others have shown is clear, factual, and compelling. So why do our Republican leaders in Colombia continue to pursue such stupid policies? They are not stupid people; they can read and write and think and do math.


A rational person can only conclude that they just choose to simply ignore the truth — ignore the cold hard facts. They deliberately choose to continue to play politics as usual, to go along with the corrupt system of special interest politics.


They behave as if almost everything else is more important than our children.


So, until our kids can vote or hire a high-priced lobbyist, things will only change if “we the people” speak up for them. If we don’t, no one else will … and too many babies will continue to die needlessly.


And that’s not “statistically insignificant.”


Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. phil@philnoble.com www.SCNewDemocrats.org.

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