Twenty-five seconds showers

Regardless of whether elected officials want to talk about this, we have a global water crisis that has been building for some time. Here in the states, it manifests itself in three ways: more severe droughts in drier areas, evaporating and depleting water sources, and too many lead pipes still being used to provide water to cities.

And, this is before climate change has made the situation worse. I have cited before a statistic from a Duke Energy report that said climate change will cause evaporation from their water sources by 11% more than before. The folks out in the western part of the US are seeing major river sources at risk with so many competing users and states. The same is true in other parts of the world such as Cape Town, South Africa and in Chile, eg.

So, there are many things we must do combat these problems. The first one is to get elected officials to stop their discussions around exaggerated and contrived topics and to start discussing real problems. Politicians are often too late to the game as they get little credit for actually thinking ahead to avoid a problem getting worse. That is unfortunate, as that is precisely what we need them to do.

The possible solutions are many, but none may be a panacea. With climate change, our water crisis can be boiled down to one sentence – too much sea water and too little fresh water. So, one solution would be to convert sea water into potable water. It is expensive and earlier attempts do not taste as well, but that may be the best option for us. This is more evident in places like Miami and surrounding areas where the Biscayne aquifer is protected by porous limestone which will not hold back encroaching sea water. But, I have not heard either of the two senators or governor mention this.

One approach that would help a great deal is to use less water to generate power. What gets talked about so little in renewable energy is many of the approaches do not need water. Solar energy with photovoltaic panels and wind energy do not need water. Fossil fuel and nuclear energy must use water to boil into steam and turn the turbines. Granted the water gets release after its used back into the source, but a portion evaporates each time. And, fracking to retrieve natural gas takes a huge amount of water that cannot be reused.

Another partial solution is cut down on usage, hence the title of this post. The twenty-five seconds showers come from those who served in the Navy on a ship. That is how much fresh water a sailor had to bathe. So, the sailor would rinse off for five seconds. Stop the water and bathe with soap. Then, turn the water back on and rinse off for twenty seconds. 25 seconds. I know most folks shower much longer than that, but just think of the impact if everyone just halved their shower time, even more so if they decreased it to something measurable in seconds.

The above is a good metaphor for cutting usage of fresh water along many lines. We need to plant more indigenous plants that grow better in an area. There is a reason alfalfa and wheat are grown in the midwest – they grow in the wild. We could also use more rain barrels for watering or build gardens and water gathering devices on the roof of buildings. And, there plumbing approaches that reuse shower water to flush toilets, etc. Finally, some locations have had success in significantly filtering sewage water into fresh drinking water.

Then, there is that lead pipe thing. Which is its own animal. Unless we want to keep on poisoning people, we need to do something about changing the pipes. The Flint, Michigan pipe issue is not an anomaly. I read where Chicago is having issues as well, but these places are only the tip of the icebergs.

I kept this piece short with intention. It deserves greater scrutiny and discussion, but we need to discuss them rather than some of the things that we do discuss. I feel like our elected officials are a bunch of Nero’s fiddling away. But, in this case, we don’t have the water to put out the fire.

A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty (a reprise)

The following is a reprise of a post I wrote three years ago. After the pandemic and its lingering tentacles, along with increased apartment prices due to a housing boom fueled even more by investors buying up property, it is even more of a concern today. I welcome your ideas and thoughts.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law (passed in early 2018) with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. And, we must look at our rising numbers needing mental health counseling. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We should actually be expanding access where it does not exist. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

Seventh, too many go hungry in the United States, especially children. That may be one of our greatest tragedies as a nation. We must address food deserts where grocers choose not to go. Too many are living off horrible fast food or nothing at all. Food co-ops would be a big help to those areas, but they need help funding the build-out.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes a deteriorated asset creating jobs and revitalizing areas.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

Water crisis out west solicits water restrictions, but need more

Per an article presented on CBS News called “US West hit with water cuts but rebuffs call for deeper ones,” the federal government stepped in when seven states out west could not come to an agreement, as their water sources dwindle to less than 1/2, closer to 1/3 of their previous supply. The article can be linked to below, but here are a few key paragraphs:

“For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the West endures more drought, federal officials announced Tuesday.

The cuts planned for next year will force states to make critical decisions about where to reduce consumption and whether to prioritize growing cities or agricultural areas. Mexico will also face cuts.

But those reductions represent just a fraction of the potential pain to come for the 40 million Americans in seven states that rely on the river. Because the states failed to respond to a federal ultimatum to figure out how to cut their water use by at least 15%, they could face even deeper cuts that the government has said are needed to prevent reservoirs from falling so low they cannot be pumped.

‘The states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system,’ Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton said.

Together, the missed deadline and cuts place officials responsible for providing water to growing cities and farms under renewed pressure to plan for a hotter, drier future and a growing population.

Touton has said the additional 15% reduction is necessary to ensure that water deliveries and hydroelectric power are not disrupted. She was noncommittal on Tuesday about whether she planned to impose those cuts unilaterally if the states cannot reach agreement.”

The world has been facing a global water crisis for some time now. A couple of years ago, Cape Town, South Africa had a countdown to no water, which they staved off. And, Saudi Arabia, an oil rich country, is water poor, so the regime said Muslims could pray with sand instead of water. In the US, we are seeing pockets of water shortage with the western part of the country seeing the worst trouble. The shortage is exacerbated as seven states have competed for and cannot come to an agreement on how to reduce water supply.

In short, these states better get their act together. Climate change has only made the water crisis worse. Duke Energy wrote a report that projected on top of normal water loss when creating power due to steam dissipation that is not reconverted to water after the power is generated and evaporation from water reservoirs, they would lose an additional 11% of water due to climate change. This is an additional reason we need to move aggressively to sources of energy that do not require fresh water such as wind, tidal and photovoltaic solar energy. *

And, our industries, government and water users must alter our practices before it is too late. This relates to the type of plants that are used which need to be endemic to an area, to fewer golf courses, to less lawn watering, to less fracking for natural gas which uses an abundance of water, to less usage by people. People must do the part, but in a survey this week, many felt they could not make a difference. That is selfish and short-sighted. They better make a difference or they will need to have water shipped in or move.

In Miriam Horn’s book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman,” she notes a farmer said we need to grow crops that grow naturally to an area. They require far less water that way. The farm to table restaurants are nice in principle, but in certain places growing water intensive crops is less utile. These are the kinds of things we need to think about.

It really comes down to the following; water, air and food. We must nurture and protect these resources. And, when a fossil fuel company raises a stink, remind them of what Steven Solomon said in his book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.” He coined the phrase “water is the new oil.” I first heard this phrase uttered by the CEO of Duke Energy at the time, before I read Solomon’s must read book. Now, why would a CEO say that?

*There are some solar installations that heat water to steam to turn turbines and generate power, but most solar installations use photovoltaic solar panels that harness the sun’s energy.

Southwest US is bone dry requiring past due action

In an alarming article by Laura Korte of Politico called “The Southwest is bone dry. Now, a key water source is at risk” the severe depletion of its key water sources must be addressed in rather dramatic fashion. A link to the piece is below. A few select paragraphs follow:

SACRAMENTO — California and six other Western states have less than 60 days to pull off a seemingly impossible feat: Cut a multi-way deal to dramatically reduce their consumption of water from the dangerously low Colorado River...

A federal Bureau of Reclamation ultimatum last month, prompted by an extreme climate-change-induced drop in water levels at the nation’s largest reservoirs, reopens years of complicated agreements and political feuds among the communities whose livelihoods depend on the river. The deadline represents a crucial moment for the arid Southwest, which must now swiftly reckon with a problem that has been decades in the making.

Despite the oppressive dryness that has plagued the region for more than 20 years, California has, in large part, avoided reductions to its usage of the Colorado River. But now that reservoir levels have fallen drastically, the Golden State may be forced to use less water, a prospect that would only further strain a state that is already asking residents in some regions to stop watering lawns and take shorter showers.

Despite the oppressive dryness that has plagued the region for more than 20 years, California has, in large part, avoided reductions to its usage of the Colorado River. But now that reservoir levels have fallen drastically, the Golden State may be forced to use less water, a prospect that would only further strain a state that is already asking residents in some regions to stop watering lawns and take shorter showers.

California’s Imperial Valley, with its vast swaths of farmlands, uses more water than its neighboring water districts — and could be a target for much of the cuts. The state will also have to contend with water users in Arizona and Nevada, who face their own sets of limitations and internal pressures.

‘You can’t possibly overestimate how hard this is,’ said Felicia Marcus, a fellow at Stanford University’s Water in the West program and former chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. ‘Each state has their own peculiar set of politics.

Over the past 20 years, as the effects of climate change have become more apparent, water authorities in their respective states have been able to hammer out agreements on moderate cutbacks. But it hasn’t been enough.

Supplies at Lake Mead and Lake Powell are dangerously low, holding just more than a quarter of their total capacities — and threatening the dams’ ability to generate electricity and provide water to its nearly 40 million users. At its highest level, in the 1980s, Lake Mead could have submerged the Empire State Building up to its top floor. Now, water levels have dropped by nearly 200 feet, or 20 stories, exposing a stark white “bathtub ring” around the rocky walls of the perimeter.

The new reality will force the region to shift away from a water source upon which it has relied for centuries, and, in some cases, make tough choices that are sure to ripple nationwide — such as whether to continue alfalfa farming for cattle feed or switch to more drought-hardy crops. The terms laid out in the coming weeks could offer a new blueprint for how America adapts to the increasingly-difficult realities of climate change.

Ignoring the disturbing projections for years has brought this crisis to an even dire level. The impact on multiple states has made it difficult to address, but also made the impact more pronounced. When Cape Town, South Africa about ran out of water two years ago, it impacted fewer people than this tragedy will. This is what is called a “burning platform” and in this case, there is no water to put it out.

Chile water crisis should serve as a warning

In an article called “‘Consequences will be dire’: Chile’s water crisis is reaching breaking point” by John Bartlett as reported in The Guardian, a long-lasting drought and water misuse have led to an alarming problem. The sad truth is the water crisis in Chile is not an isolated event. The following select paragraphs tell an important story. The full article can be linked to below.

Unprecedented drought makes water a national security issue as more than half of Chile’s 19 million population lived in area with ‘severe water scarcity’ by end of 2021.

From the Atacama Desert to Patagonia, a 13-year megadrought is straining Chile’s freshwater resources to breaking point.

By the end of 2021, the fourth driest year on record, more than half of Chile’s 19 million population lived in an area suffering from ‘severe water scarcity’, and in April an unprecedented water rationing plan was announced for the capital, Santiago.

In hundreds of rural communities in the centre and north of the country, Chileans are forced to rely on emergency tankers to deliver drinking water.

Ecuadorian natives clash with the police 30km from Quito in 2010 in protest of a proposed water privatisation measure.

‘Water has become a national security issue – it’s that serious,’ said Pablo García-Chevesich, a Chilean hydrologist working at the University of Arizona. ‘It’s the biggest problem facing the country economically, socially and environmentally. If we don’t solve this, then water will be the cause of the next uprising.’……

‘I used to supply all of the markets and communities in the area,’ said Alfonso Ortíz, 73, a farmer who once employed several workers to grow watermelons, pumpkins, corn and oranges using water from the lagoon.

‘Agriculture here is dead. There’s nothing left,’ he said.

Chile’s economy, South America’s largest by per-capita GDP, is built on water-intensive, extractivist industries principally mining, forestry and agriculture.

But its growth has come at a price.

Supported by the private rights system, about 59% of the country’s water resources are dedicated to forestry, despite it making up just 3% of Chile’s GDP.

Another 37% is destined for the agricultural sector, meaning only 2% of Chile’s water is set aside for human consumption.”

Re-read that last sentence. “2% of Chile’s water is set for human consumption.” While this is an extreme example it is not isolated. Going on for several years now, the number one long term crisis facing us as surveyed by the World Economic Forum is the global water crisis. Climate change impact was second as it actually makes the first problem worse.

For those that think it cannot happen here, farmers in the plains of the US are worried about water. There is a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that shares these concerns. There is one town in Texas that is now dry because of fracking and drought. Other water supplies are getting more dear and fights over river and reservoir access have been going on. The Biscayne aquifer that provides water to Miami is being encroached on by rising sea levels coming through the porous limestone. And, that is before the issue of lead pipes comes into the equation.

What troubles me greatly is the lack of public debate over this concern. Cape Town, South Africa was so bad off it had a countdown to no water. It survived, but just barely. Yet, not a peep was discussed here. We are to busy talking about contrived and exaggerated issues to deal with real crises. One would think not having water to drink or irrigate crops would be a concern. One would think that climate change causing water reservoirs to dry up faster and cause longer droughts and forest fires would be a concern.

Let me leave you with this thought. I heard a spokesperson from one of the largest US utilities speak on climate change impact. This utility had a long-range report that said two very disturbing things. First, they have increased their model for expected evaporation of reservoir water due to climate change by 11%. If the water level is too low, it cannot be converted into steam to turn the turbines to create power. So, they cut the water flow to people to make up for it, as they manage the river.

Second, these long-range projections noted the river will not be able to support the water needs of the metropolitan population in about fifty years unless something is done. This troubling projection has gotten very little coverage in our newspapers or TV news. This is more concerning to me than BS like critical race theory or replacement theory which are the contrived and exaggerated issues of the day.

Steven Solomon, author of “Water” created a term that has been used by at least one utility executive. “Water is the new oil.” If that does not scare you, note oil rich Saudi Arabia said it was OK to pray with sand rather than water. Why? They said Allah gave them a lot of oil, but little water.

The real replacement practices

This concept of replacement theory where white workers are subject to a planned replacement by black and brown workers has been around for decades. In fact, the fascists in England were using this replacement theory in the early 1960s, of course, blaming Jews for its orchestration. In essence, the theory says white workers’ jobs are being systematically replaced by immigrants and those other people who don’t belong here. Sound familiar? Yet, this replacement theory well preceded the 1960s.

It is all subterfuge to create fear and blame others for your problems. Fear has been used to sell ideas and manipulate people for a long time. Overstating an inflammable cause is one way to do that. The fear of the other overlooks the deeper problems for loss of jobs and disenfranchisement. The key reasons for disenfranchisement are the actual replacement practices that we need to address. These are not some theory, but deployed routinely and recurringly in practice.

There are two key reasons, which impact all workers of all colors:

– technology improvements which reduce the number of workers needed, and

– CEOs chasing cheaper labor to lower the cost of production

The latter cause manifests itself in offshoring, outsourcing, or migration of factories. For example, the textile industry has left a trail of closed plants as the industry moved from England to the United States first in New England and then to southern states. Then in the 1980s, the heavy migration occurred to China and Mexico and eventually to Vietnam and Bangladesh searching for cheaper labor. One company that comes to mind went from 86,000 US employees in 1980 to about 4,000 today, with the rest abroad. That is not an isolated example and it is not just manufacturing work. It is call center, IT, analysis, etc. The US based insurance industry has been shipping claim forms for review to Ireland as the Irish were, on average, more literate than Americans, even before technology made it easier to get the Irish to review them.

The former cause has been occurring routinely as well, but has accelerated once again with the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Yet, a robot need not look like a humanoid to be effective. Computer driven machines and robotic appendages have evolved over time. I watched a “60 Minutes” episode about ten years ago, which demonstrated a programmable robotic machine that went for the price of a car to be used by small businesses. The tasks need not be complex to improve efficiency, so these cheaper machines could replace a half-dozen workers.

So, when you hear immigration is a problem, that does not address the main issues. Of course, the immigration system could be improved and opportunities to do so were not voted on after some agreement even by some of the most vocal critics. But, there are some industries and municipalities that need more workers. Those workers need to be trained or trainable, so some may come from abroad and some from here.

Where we need to focus our attention is working with new and old industries in transition and community colleges to train new workers. The coal industry has been on the demise for a dozen years, but some politicians have been clinging on to its protection. I have said several times, whether or not you like Senator Bernie Sanders, he was the only presidential candidate in 2016 to stand up in front of coal miners and tell them the truth – your jobs are going away, but here is what I plan to do about it.

In this vein, some towns are dilapidated by closed factories that moved. The forward thinking towns invested in bringing new workers from whereever they could. They developed initiatives to reinvest in the area using the brainpower of the new and old blood mixed together. They developed incentives to draw younger adults to their towns. And, it worked.

The issue of workers needing more opportunity and investment is where we need to focus our attention. This is a good example of a group of PR people coming up with an issue, blowing it way out of proportion as the problem, and putting it on a bumper sticker. “Build a wall” some might say as the panacea. Ironically, when the major proponent of that comment accepted a deal to get $25 billion for this wall in exchange for making DACA law, he was talked out of it. This was his number one issue, but he said no after saying yes. Why? He knew it would not solve the problems and his bluff had been called.

Our problems are complex and have multiple factors. One of the tenets of the book “Built to Last” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is most of America’s major problems over time were solved in concert between some combination of government (federal, state and/ or local), venture capital, and private industry or philanthropy investment. We won’t solve our problems unless we identify them and their many causes. We won’t solve them by listening to opinion hosts and candidates who are trying to scare, who really don’t want to solve anything other than getting someone elected.

We will solve them by looking at the facts, coming up with a plan, getting buy-in and funding and making it happen. That is hard to put on a bumper sticker or define in a two-minute sound byte by an opinion host.

The limits of sequential thinking – a reprise

The following post was written a few years ago, but I stumbled upon it today. It stands the test of time regardless of how one tracks progress.

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

Friday follies and foibles

While I am sick and tired of being sick and tired with tribal politics and traitorous actions, let me offer a veritable potpourri of follies and foibles this Friday. In no particular order:

The Ukraine forces sank a big Russian ship or at least it is submerged. Russians say everything is OK and it is being towed back. I am reminded of the knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” who said after losing yet one more appendage, “It is a flesh wound.”

Republican appointed US District Judge Reggie Walton on Thursday called Donald Trump a threat to democracy, accusing the former president of instigating a mob of “weak-minded” followers to attack the US Capitol on January 6, Politico reported. While Trump did not offer a rebuttal, it is expected that he will call the judge a loser, Trump-hater and/or witch-hunter. It is also expected Trump will make no mention that Walton was appointed by a Republican.

Intel is proceeding with a new computer chip factory in Lorain County Ohio. Yes, that is in the United States, so you read that right. What I also find interesting is the community college started teaching microelectronics about nine years ago creating a workforce that could be drawn upon. Call me crazy, but that sounds like some excellent forward thinking and evidence when politicians stop bitching and moaning and start listening to people, good things can happen.

The Intel example offers a truism. Much change of significance occurs because of people and organizations getting together toward a common cause or idea. So-called leaders are usually followers, not unlike the buck leading herd of deer. People think the buck leads the herd to where they go, but observations reveal the herd will react to threat or noises and move with its leader following.

This is a key reason at the 2016 GOP convention, when the presidential candidate said “I, alone, can solve our problems,” that was just total BS. A good leader knows the best ideas come from those closest to the action, be it the customer or a process. In other words, the buck better listen to the herd or he and others might get eaten by the wolves.

We need to make our concerns and ideas heard by those we elected. And, we need to make sure they hear us. We also need them to tell us the truth and stop the tribal BS. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

A Proven Three for One Return – an example of reducing poverty, abortions and unwanted pregnancies (a reprise from an earlier post)

The following post was written about seven years ago. Given my past volunteer work for working homeless families, this Colorado study was compelling.

If there was a proven solution that would accomplish three major goals and save money, it would be worth considering, right? If data revealed that a state could save $80 million and dramatically reduce abortions, unwanted pregnancies and help people in poverty, it would be as close to a no-brainer as we could get. Then, why is Colorado’s legislature unwinding funding to an effort to provide birth control and family planning to people in need?

Worldwide and in the US, there is a high correlation between larger family size and poverty. Further, a Harvard study from 1982 – 2011 indicates that one of five reasons for poor socio-economic mobility is fewer traditional families (some Conservatives like to say this is the only reason, but that oversimplifies).

Yet, the use of an obvious toolset with a proven track record does not stand up to the scrutiny of this legislature. Of course, the reason is the fervent belief against birth control even though the significant majority of women ignore their religion on this subject. About 90% of American Catholic women use or have used birth control.

In my work with homeless families, one of the reasons for some young women who find themselves homeless is having children before they are ready or out of wedlock. Also about 30% of our clients are victims of domestic violence. Lacking the additional income of a second parent, not to mention the support of a good one, puts a family in a hole which is hard to climb out of.

Here is where religion is less inclined toward the practical and can be harmful. We need to have holistic open discussions about this topic with teens. It is more than OK to preach abstinence, but these teens are tempted far more than we were at that age, and we were tempted. So, we need to teach a girl’s self-esteem is not tied into relenting to sex, nor is a boy’s for that matter. We need to teach boys that no means no. But, we need to also teach family planning and provide tools of birth control.

We have columnists who tout fatherless families as the reason for poverty in the Black community, which it is one of several. It is a reason no matter the race or ethnic group. Yet they stop short of defining one of the cures, which is noted above and proven to be successful. It should be noted in the states with the lowest abortion rate, they each have more robust family planning effort than states with higher rates.

Let’s be smart and practical about these issues. The data is pretty clear. And, it should be noted using a condom actually reduces STDs and HIV transmission which would be fourth benefit.

Rural Health Care is suffering (and COVID-19 has made it worse)

In an article called “The South’s health care system is crumbling under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee” by Daniel Payne of Politico, the demise of heath care in more rural areas has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

A key reason is the closing of rural and small town hospitals that has severely impacted immediate health care. A key paragraph from this article is telling:

“Of the 50 counties with the highest Covid deaths per capita, 24 are within 40 miles of a hospital that has closed, according to a POLITICO analysis in late January. Nearly all 50 counties were in rural areas. Rural hospital closures have been accelerating, with 181 since 2005 — and over half of those happening since 2015, according to data from the University of North Carolina. But that may be just the beginning. Over 450 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to an analysis by the Chartis Group, one of the nation’s largest independent health care advisory firms.”

These hospital closings are not new nor did they just happen. The financial difficulties predate the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In essence, a significant portion of the cost of running these hospitals went toward indigent care, meaning people without insurance. In some cases, it was over 50% and even as high as two-thirds of the hospital budget. This meant some of the revenue may be reimbursed by the local county, but if the county was in financial trouble or this was a private hospital, the hospital was out of luck.

The ACA brought with it the expansion of Medicaid, should a state opt in to cover people. The federal government would reimburse the state those costs for three years and then drop to 90% thereafter. All but fourteen states have so expanded. Per the non-partisan Commonweath Fund, Medicaid expansion helps the state economy, rural health care and the people in those locations. Former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called Medicaid expansion a “no brainer” when he was governor of Ohio.

And, these hospitals are usually a major employer in these towns. So, when one closes, a lot of revenue leaves the town budget and economy. Belhaven, NC Mayor Adam O’Neil, a Republican, pleaded with the state leaders to expand Medicaid, but to no avail. So, he walked to Washington, DC to plead his case there. It should be noted that North Carolina remains as one of the fourteen states who have not expanded Medicaid.

As a retired benefits consultant, manager and actuary, I know the ACA is not perfect and could use some shoring up. But, a key reason for the ACA is patients need access to care and hospitals need to get paid for services rendered. If a patient has health care insurance, he or she will seek more preventative measures to stave off problems. Plus, he or she will seek care if needed, rather than avoiding it.

All of the above greased the skids for a problematic response to COVID-19. Without hospitals close by, people would forego care until it was too late. Plus, coordination of care with doctors to do triage and offer vaccines is hindered.

The ACA is not perfect, but it has improved access care for many people. I have written before about some suggestions to improve it. Yet, in fourteen states, the ACA still has not been fully implemented and in many of those states, they lag other states on health care results per the Commonwealth Fund. Expansion of Medicaid could be a major step.