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Josh Bergeron: Rowan County makes progress to fill ‘doughnut hole’

It’s long been the case that Rowan County is the “doughnut hole” among counties in our area.

By many measures, adjacent counties and the communities therein are doing better — a fact that County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds has seized during his time in office as reason to focus on solutions rather than assigning blame for problems. They’ve been here for years and won’t be solved easily.

Census statistics, for example, show Cabarrus and Iredell counties consistently growing much faster than Rowan. Population growth is faster, too, in Davidson, Davie and Stanly counties.

There are other areas where Rowan falls behind as well, including the well-being of its residents. A larger percentage of third-graders in Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie and Stanly counties score “proficient” in reading. More children in Rowan live in food-insecure households, too.

But the silver lining to that cloud is that things are getting better, whether that’s due to the improved economy, focused efforts by local groups or some combination.

Consider county data cards released earlier this year by N.C. Child, a nonprofit public policy advocacy group focused on the well-being of children, as an example.

Of 15 key metrics, the data cards show Rowan improved in the following 10 categories:

• Women who receive early prenatal care — 63.1% in 2017 as compared to 62.3% in 2016.

• Babies born at a low birthweight, 8.7% in 2017 and 10.2% in 2016.

• Children living in poor or low-income households — 52.1% in 2017 and 55% in 2016.

• Children in food-insecure households — 22.6% in 2016 and 23.8% in 2015.

• Median annual family income — $46,978 from 2013 to 2017 and $44,494 from 2012 to 2016.

• Children assessed for abuse or neglect per 1,000 — 77.6 in 2017 and 82.2 in 2016.

• High school students graduating on time — 84.5% in 2018 and 83% in 2017.

• Residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher — 18.4% in 2017 and 17.6% in 2016.

• Children without health insurance — 4.1% in 2017 and 5.1% in 2016.

• Child deaths per 100,000 — 64.2 in 2017 and 65.4 in 2016.

Areas where the county declined included: children in foster care, teen births among girls ages 15-17, third-grade students proficient in reading and infant mortality per 1,000 live births.

There was no change in the number of babies born pre-term, according to the county data cards released by N.C. Child.

The data, compiled through government sources such as the Census Bureau and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, do not paint a complete picture of life in Rowan, but it shows how things are improving or declining, as the case may be, for an estimated 41,252 children in Rowan. That’s about 30 percent of our county’s population.

Our community should look at the data as a sign that there’s been small improvements in the well-being of children. We haven’t closed the “doughnut hole.” Surrounding counties are improving, too. But we’re moving in the right direction.

As our elected leaders, from town halls to the halls of Congress, work to improve the quality of life for their constituents, they must remember the job requires more than tax cuts and balancing budgets. And Rowan residents should know there’s a place for them in work that remains to fill the “doughnut hole.”

Some quality-of-life items are out of our control, such as median income. To a certain extent, we’re a victim of the times, but elected leaders can help with items such as children without health insurance. And there are an unlimited number of areas where local residents can help.

County government, for example, offers opportunities for locals to serve their community through the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and the Board of Public Health, both of which have vacancies. And there are no shortage of volunteer opportunities through nonprofits or community groups.

The good news is that life in Rowan County is getting better for many people, but there’s still progress to be made.

And there’s no shortage of opportunities to get involved.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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