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Kids Count: Children need economic improvement

Children need economic improvement

Too often, those studying how to improve the lives of West Virginians conclude the answer is giving more of our hard-earned money to state government, to be doled out as officials in Charleston wish.

Good for the West Virginia KIDS COUNT organization for coming to a different — and correct — conclusion.

KIDS COUNT, which sums up its purpose by explaining it is “determined to make West Virginia a great place to be a kid,” annually releases a data book on how children are faring. Much of it is not pleasant reading.

There are good things to be seen. The 2019 data book cites improvements in public education, child nutrition in schools and the number of Mountain State youngsters covered by health insurance. Much of the report shows that we could be doing better for our children, however.

For example, the county-by-county data indicates many children in fourth grade do not read as proficiently as they should at that age. Percentages of those not meeting the state standard range from a low of 40.9 percent in Hancock County to a high of 68.9 percent in Lewis County. (Wood County is at 48.6 percent). Thirty-eight of the 55 county school systems miss the state mark for fourth grade reading proficiency.

Other statistics cover many areas of children’s wellbeing, ranging from percentages of low birth-weight babies to percentages of children in foster care.

It would have been easy for KIDS COUNT officials to take the default position that state government should collect more taxes and use the money for initiatives intended to benefit children. That did not happen.

Instead, KIDS COUNT points out that our state ranks 47th in economic wellbeing — down from 42nd the previous year. One-fourth of children in West Virginia live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.

What can be done to make children’s lives better in West Virginia?

“Children growing up in financially stable environments have better long-term outcomes,” KIDS COUNT points out, adding, “Decision-makers need to support programs that connect parents to economic opportunities.”

In other words, we need to improve our economy.

Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia legislators should take the recommendation as their marching orders. During the past few years, lawmakers have enacted measures intended to make the state more attractive to job creators. Others have been discussed — but not pursued for political reasons or because no one can find a way to make them work in the context of the state budget.

Clearly, old-fashioned political doctrines need to be rethought. Ways we can afford to incentivize job creation need to be found.

Otherwise, we — and our children — will remain bogged in a truly vicious cycle. Now is as good a time as any to change that.

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