Nevada's silver lining is in hiding

What’s it going to be, Nevada?

Something new, or more of the same?

The state of our state is downright grim, according to the 2013 Kids Count study commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation studied four general areas — economic well-being, education, health and family and community — and the Silver State came up badly tarnished in every category.

Quick translation: Nevada is no place for children.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Not only do we rank 48th overall, but we’re dead last in education, 48th in economic well-being and 47th in health. We were an undeniably mediocre 41st in the family indicator.

All of which made jarring headlines Monday following the report’s release but figures to have 0 percent chance of forcing much real change. Fact is, there wasn’t much news in any of those numbers.

Those who hope for change are likely to be disappointed: Think back only as far as the recently concluded legislative session for a clear sign that Nevada’s leaders lack the collective conscience to create a new paradigm for a century filled with complex challenges.

The lingering effects of the recession, of course, played a role in our poor economic ranking. But, for some reason, an improved Nevada jobs picture hasn’t yet produced an improved place among the 50 states.

Although she calls herself a pessimist by nature, Nevada Kids Count Director Rennae Daneshvary finds reason for guarded optimism. While anemic by national standards, several key indicators are showing a pulse of improvement.

In unscientific terms she wouldn’t utter, we don’t suck quite as much as we did last year. She points to the lingering effects of the recession as a factor.

“We worsened in all four indicators of economic well-being,” Daneshvary observes. That includes children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children in households with a high housing cost burden, and teens out of school and unemployed. The number of impoverished children increased from 15 percent in 2005 to 22 percent in 2011. That’s an estimated 144,000 kids in poverty.

“We did improve on half of the indicators,” she says. “And even though we ranked 50th in education, we improved in all four of the indicators.”

Which is a little like saying, “The Titanic is sinking, but the band is playing beautifully.”

Daneshvary, a 23-year resident, cuts through my cynicism and optimistically adds, “There is some hope. We’re improving but very slowly.”

Her insistence on brighter days ahead is rooted in her belief that Nevadans care for their children and want what’s best for them.

“I think I’m a pessimist by nature, but when it comes to children, you have to be optimistic,” she says. “Children are our future. We have to invest in them. We have to care for them. … I think, in general, people want to do what’s best for children.”

I think she’s right.

But the greatest challenge isn’t really in declaring how we feel about our children. As ever, it’s whether we’re willing to take demonstrative action to ensure their health and welfare. For that, Nevada needs leadership of the sort that’s hard to come by in a glorified company town.

Without a dramatic shift in leadership that emphasizes improving public education and the quality of life for all our children, any the talk about economic development and diversification of commerce coming from Carson City is nothing but hypocrisy and hot air. Tax benefits aside, not many top businesses will ever be anxious to move their headquarters to the state with the 48th-ranked quality of life quotient for kids and the worst education performance in the country.

It’s 2013. Another damning report has been published.

So what’s it going to be, Nevada? Something new, or more of the same?

The sound you hear is the crushing silence of political inertia broken only by the chirruping of cynical crickets.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.