Find Out How Poorly America is Performing On the "Misery Index"

Misery: It's not just a murder movie, even if some kids may die from it. 

It’s absolutely miserable out there, people. The numbers don’t lie. The Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund released the newest TANF Misery Index. TANF — Temporary Assistance to Needy Families — “is a block grant program to help move recipients into work and turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance.” It’s supposed to keep the poor from being destitute or, in other words, miserable.

TANF was part of the Clintonian welfare reform package, formally known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). “It is a United States federal law considered to be a fundamental shift in both the method and goal of federal cash assistance to the poor [and which] added a workforce development component to welfare legislation, encouraging employment among the poor.” You can blame (or praise) the Republicans for getting this done. 

Similar to the economic misery index, which is “the sum of the unemployment and inflation rates,” the TANF misery index is “the sum of the percent of poor families (or children) not receiving TANF, and the percent gap between TANF benefits and the poverty level.” It is, essentially, a single number that tells everyone how god-awful the poor kids have it across America.

And they have it bad. Since 1996, when TANF was enacted, and since records were kept, there has only been one year (2010-2011) that the TANF Misery Index did not go up. Beginning in 1996 at an index of 93 (that’s 28% of poor families not receiving TANF, plus 65% as the gap between TANF benefit and the poverty level) we have now reached a misery index of 145 in 2011. To be clear, "Most of the growth in the misery index has been due to an increase in the percent of poor families not receiving TANF, which almost tripled from 28% in 1996 to 73% in 2011."

The only good news to be seen is that it’s been at 145 since last year. Is it tapering off? Not likely. Sequestration is GOP-guaranteed to hit social services the hardest so expect rising rolls of dependents with less access. Queue the right wing talking points. Everyone prepare for the return of the "welfare queen" and the "anchor baby." 

Better yet, can we, as a nation, take care of our babies? And not just when they're in the womb? I think we can. I think we should. 

For the record, and not to perpetuate any scientifically-proven notions of the failures of red states, Arkansas (ahem, red state) has the highest TANF Misery Index, at 180. Yes, you read that correct. And for balance, lo and behold, you hippy, weed-smoking, low-riding, skateboarding folks in California (yup, blue state) have the lowest TANF Misery Index (conversely, the happiest/most well cared for kids) with a 109. The median index was a solid 156. 

Congratulations, mom, you managed to feed us all. 

The full four page Misery Index can be found here. And here's the full national chart, for your perusal.