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Jobs aren’t only gauge of success


As Iowa puts new focus on economic development and its capital city and suburbs jockey for new jobs and corporate expansions, the true measure of the health of a community is too often overlooked: the well-being of its children.

A recent report from the advocacy group The Number 1 Question: Is It Good for the Kids? is disheartening. In general, it shows that children in Polk County are no better off than they were two years ago, when the organization, whose goal is to persuade community stakeholders to consider the effects on young people when making decisions, began.

Examples of how slowly progress occurs punctuate the report. The number of licensed, accredited child-care facilities in Polk County has not substantially changed over the past year. Affordable child care is in short supply, with a difference of 7,864 between the need and supply of available child-care slots for children ages 0-5. Only about two-thirds of beginning kindergarten students demonstrate necessary skills, such as the abilities to recognize numbers, letters in the alphabet and colors. More disturbing, the gap between kindergartners who possess the skills needed to succeed and those who don’t possess them is widening, putting more children at a disadvantage.

In general, the group’s progress report proves how time-consuming it is to effect change in children’s health, living conditions and learning opportunities and how serious the commitment must be. What it doesn’t show is that business leaders and economic development groups are starting to understand the connection between the well-being of children and the overall economic health of a community. Business leaders, in particular, are recognizing that the children of today are the workforces of tomorrow and that they’re stakeholders in improving the quality of life for children.

Joining The Number 1 Question group at a press conference last week on the progress report were groups such as Head Start, Shared Vision and Empowerment Preschool. Support also came from the Greater Des Moines Partnership, which is focusing on some of the same issues in its Project Destiny initiative, and the United Way of Central Iowa, which recognizes that the failure to provide support in early years is associated with both short-term and long-term problems. The United Way is backing brain development research showing how critical the first five years of child’s life are to their cognitive, emotional and social development with significant resources.

Those and other groups will ask for philanthropic contributions to help improve conditions for children in Polk County. Giving generously to support preventive programs is “good for the kids.”

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