This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
No one need look at a bar graph to know Pierce County families are hurting – just drive down a residential street peppered with homes in foreclosure or visit a job fair where the line snakes out the door.
Cold, hard data cannot accurately capture the pain of those losing their homes or their jobs, but it can help get them help. That’s where the United Way of Pierce County’s recently unveiled “community indicators” come in.
The indicators are the product of an impressive and exhaustive three-year effort to collate every scrap of reliable data to provide a comprehensive picture of the community’s well-being.
United Way calls it “the global pulse of the most vulnerable among us.”
The information is posted on the organization’s Web site (www.indicators.uwpc.org), so it can be updated at least quarterly.
&bull Foreclosure filings were up nearly 60 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. In the first quarter of 2009, 7,320 people became unemployed compared to 690 in the first quarter of 2008.
&bull Since 2000, the county’s market rate rents have risen approximately 40 percent, while household median incomes have increased approximately 23 percent.
&bull The number of active foster care homes (homes with a foster child) in Pierce County fell from 921 in 2007 to 723 in December of 2008, the lowest number since 2000 despite having more children in out-of-home care.
&bull The county has a higher rate of domestic violence offenses than both the state as a whole and counties like ours, which includes Spokane County and Snohomish County.
&bull The rate of mothers either not receiving prenatal care or receiving it late in their pregnancy has increased nearly a third since 1997.
Not a pretty picture, to be sure. But this isn’t about confirming how bad we have it – it’s about identifying the community’s biggest problems, how they relate and possibly better solutions.
Programs that, for instance, aim to help low-income families better manage their money won’t work if those families don’t have any money left after paying skyrocketing rents. So perhaps the focus needs to shift, at least temporarily, to creating affordable housing.
The snapshot is part of a concerted effort to move from crisis management to prevention, from addressing the effects of societal decay to fighting the causes.
Only when we know what ails us can we find the right cures.