Columbus Dispatch, July 1, 2008: Editorial: Fight for the future

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008 3:10 AM

Some of the dismal news for Ohioans in the 2008 Kids Count data book could make a compassionate person wonder what possibly can be done to make those numbers change. The study found an increase from 2000 to 2005 in Ohio in infants born underweight, infants dying before their first birthday and children dying in their teens.

The challenges for families and social-service providers are immense and varied.

For state legislators, though, the priorities remain the same, if reinforced even more: generate jobs and improve education.

Authors of the report, released last month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, note that the common thread that ties all of the afflictions that limit children’s potential is poverty. Pregnant women who are poor usually don’t receive adequate health care while pregnant, or for their babies later.

Their children are likely to live in dangerous conditions, with unemployed parents in single-parent households. These factors lay the groundwork for blighted conditions that the report says Ohio’s children are facing.

The report, compiling data for 2005, ranked each state on several measures of children’s well-being, such as the percentage of babies born underweight and how many high-school students drop out.

Compared with 2000 figures, Ohio has slipped from the unenviable rank of 28{ t}{ h} overall to 30{ t}{ h}. Most troubling, the infant mortality rate — the number of babies who die before their first birthday — has grown to 8.3 per 1,000 babies, from 7.6 per 1,000. That’s an increase of 9 percent and puts Ohio in 43{ r}{ d} place for this measure.

There was some good news: The rate of teens dropping out of school was cut in half. But two of the measures that most directly reflect poverty — the number of children with no parent who has a full-time job and those living below the 2006 poverty line — grew substantially.

Recent efforts by the legislature to strengthen and standardize academic-content standards, establish accountability for student performance and give families more choice through charter schools and vouchers have borne some fruit in improved standardized-test results and higher graduation rates. Those efforts should continue.

Attracting more and better jobs to Ohio is harder, as the state and region have been hit hard by economic stagnation and the loss of talent and energy to states with more economic vitality.

But every resource that can be brought to bear on the problem is an investment in a better future.

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