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MO's Food Security Problem: Corruption and Hunger Go Hand in Hand

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service on hunger in America ranks Missouri high up on the list of states where a significant number of people experience serious issues with hunger. Our fair state is in the 7th place (and not in a good way):

7. Missouri
>Low food security homes: 16.7 percent
> Very low food security homes: 7.6 percent (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $45,247 (15th lowest)
> Pct. obesity: 27.2 percent (21st highest)

According to a 2012 Gallup-Healthways survey, residents of just two other states were less likely than Missourians to eat healthily. The falling food security of many of the state's residents may play a role in their poor diets. Nearly 8 percent of households faced very low food security, the second highest percentage in the nation. This was up significantly from 3.3 percent in 2002, and the largest increase in the nation over the 10-year period.

Today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch offered in insightful editorial on the topic, drawing the lines between the increase in food insecurity in Missouri over the past decade — which has been the fastest in the nation — and the ascendency of the strange breed of hyper-ideological Republican that has taken over the running of the state, concluding that:

Missouri's low-tax, no-services philosophy has taken us right to the top.

We're number one in growing the percentage of our population that is hungrier today than a decade ago.

But there might be even more to the issue of food insecurity in the state than just a bunch of idiot ideologues — which is where the second story comes into the picture. Progress Missouri has been drawing attention to an article in the Kansas City Star about Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones' "side" business, a limited liability company called the Missouri Freedom Alliance. When questioned about what he did through that business, Jones hemmed and hawed, gave first one answer and then another, finally resorting to invoking the confidentiality of his legal clients. So far, lots of questions, few substantive answers.

This type of behavior on the part of politicians is not new to Missourians. There's Rod Jetton, who, during his time as speaker, "ran a political consulting firm where he worked for the campaigns of the same lawmakers whose legislation depended on his blessing." Nor were many of us surprised when Jetton got off with a slap on the wrist from the toothless state ethics commission which, nevertheless, essentially admitted that his actions stank.

Ho-hum, some of you are saying. This is news? This is a state, after all, where politicians don't bother to hide the fact that they're for sale. The proof? Their unwillingness to enact ethics legislation or campaign reform, while they pull in money from billionaires like Rex Sinquefield and industries with legislative axes to grind in Missouri. And don't forget the dainty little perks like fancy meals and athletic tickets from well-heeled lobbyists. There's a reason the State Integrity Investigation gives Missouri a C+ when it comes to corruption risk — with the grade of F when it comes to political financing and public access to information; D+ and D- for legislative accountability and lobbying disclosure.

How do possible governmental corruption and hunger statistics fit together? Lots of academics have studied the link between governmental corruption, income inequality and poverty. A 2003 literature review (pdf) summarizes the "governance model" often used to explain the relationship:

The Governance Model asserts that corruption affects poverty by influencing governance factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. First, corruption reduces governance capacity, that is, it weakens political institutions and citizen participation and leads to lower quality government services and infrastructure. The poor suffer disproportionately from reduced public services. When health and basic education expenditures are given lower priority, for example, in favor of capital intensive programs that offer more opportunities for high-level rent taking, lower income groups lose services on which they depend. Corruption is consistently correlated with higher school dropout rates and high levels of infant mortality. Secondly, impaired governance increases poverty by restricting economic growth and, coming full circle, by its inability to control corruption. Thirdly, corruption that reduces governance capacity also may inflict critical collateral damage: reduced public trust in government institutions. As trust — an important element of social capital — declines, research has shown  that vulnerability of the poor increases as their economic productivity is affected. When people perceive that the social system is untrustworthy and inequitable, their incentive to engage in productive economic activities declines.

Sound like someplace we know about? It only remains to point out that lots of people may have made the linkage between our Republican-dominated state government and the low quality of life in the state in a very practical way: with their feet. According to the data gathered from moving companies, more people have been moving out of Missouri than have been moving in. These are not people moving to low paying jobs in Texas either — they are, after all, the folks who can afford a commercial mover, people who have choices about where they want to live and, increasingly, they don't seem to want to live in a third world economy.

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