Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The state of kids

At this moment, both Iowa and national leaders are soaking their elbows in ice water, due to the strain of patting themselves on the back over the results of the Casey Foundation study into child well-being.

There is cause for celebration, to be sure. Forty-three states improved from 1990 to 2000, and Iowa saw drops in unemployed teens, teen pregnancy, and children without health care. "Iowans should be proud," as the governor said.

Yet, Iowa was stagnant or fared worse in as many categories of this study as it improved in. It is hard to explain why, for example, teen death rate has gotten worse here even as it improved nationwide. Percentage of low birth-weight babies has gone up in Iowa. The percentage of children in single-parent homes climbed to nearly one in every four. The study found that 53 percent of low-income families in Iowa spend over 30 percent of their income for housing, leaving little money to care for children.

Though these parents are working longer and harder than ever, they get no closer to getting by or getting ahead, survey officials noted.

Clearly, the work is not done. It is also important to understand that this study is based on the numbers from the 1990s, a relatively flush period. Since then, state and federal budgets have become slim, priorities have changes, and hard-fought gains may be starting to slip.

Grants that once seemed plentiful for after-school programs in Storm Lake for at-risk children are no longer available to us, and we are beginning to see programs have to be cut.

The true test of how we value our children is now, when times aren't so easy, and government dollars are becoming scarce. Let's be happy for the gains, but not too quick to pat ourselves on the back.