Monongalia’s top ranking only the good news

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Rev. Martin Luther King preached that, “No man is free until all men are free.”

Without sounding preachy, that line of thinking also applies to children’s well-being.

It’s wonderful that Monongalia County was ranked No. 1 in the state for child well-being this week in the 2013 West Virginia Kids Count report.

And the state’s ranking was also no small feat — higher than 13 other states in the nation for child well-being.

Perhaps, we’re too accustomed to coming in 49th, or worse, but 37th is encouraging.

Yet, we cannot help but think that though our children’s chances are good here, far too many children don’t stand a chance in West Virginia.

Speaking of coming in last, McDowell County, on our state’s southernmost border, did so again.

The poverty rate in Monongalia County for children was 16.8 percent. The state average was 26.1 percent.

Neither of those marks is truly comforting, but Mc-Dowell’s rate of 45.8 percent is staggering.

We suspect the number of children living in poverty in South Sudan exceeds that, but such numbers are unacceptable in America.

The rate of teenage girls — 15 to 19 — for every 1,000 that have a baby in Monongalia County is 14.01.

The state average is 45.

In McDowell County, it’s 95.6 teen girls, per thousand, that have a baby.

Needless, to say many of these girls drop out of high school — one in three. Children born to teen mothers run a far greater risk of being born and dying within the first year of life, too.

As for that cycle of poverty we hear so much about, the poverty rate for children born to teen girls, who are unwed and did not graduate from high school, is nearly 80 percent.

Compare that to 9 percent born to married women older than 20, who are high school graduates.

There cannot be any illusions that it’s just McDowell County, either, that qualifies for Third World status.

For about 10 counties, all in the southern coalfields, these are the worst of times.

Categories such as high school dropout rate and infant mortality are also eye-opening there.

If anyone’s pinning their hopes on the coal industry ever reviving these counties’ quality of life that’s more than likely a mistake.

Though innovative initiatives such as Reconnecting McDowell — a public/private partnership — are a start, we are not sure what will.

What is apparent is much more is needed to provide this region’s children with a chance.

Not only to be free, but to overcome poverty.

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