A new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that increasing governmental spending on non-health care services, including education, can decrease the infant mortality rate. Improving education had the most significant effect on infants born to mothers under the age of 20. This is important because the United States has the highest infant mortality rate among its peer nations.
Infant mortality disproportionately affects non-Hispanic Black babies, who die at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white babies. While factors like premature birth, genetic defects and maternal health all have a strong negative effect on infant mortality, the mother’s health and environment also contribute to infant mortality.
But these aren’t the only causes of infant mortality. Social factors, like income, educational attainment, employment, maternal stress and even the mother’s neighborhood play a role in infant mortality.
Currently, 16% of Washtenaw County’s residents live in poverty. That poverty plays a role in the infant mortality rate here. In Washtenaw County, black infants are 4 times more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants are. Low birth weight and having a teenage mother are two important contributing factors to infant mortality in Washtenaw County.
While many of the most important risk factors cannot be addressed easily, improving education is one that can. Washtenaw Community College has a role to play in the lives of young women. An education can lift a woman (and her children) out of poverty; it can also prevent them from slipping out of the middle class and into poverty.
Improving education isn’t optional
So, when the Trustees of Washtenaw Community College vote to divert operating funds away from education in order to build a building the College doesn’t need, it’s distressing. When they spend $225,000 to create a Master Plan that includes the construction of a hotel and convention center as a high priority, it limits the community’s ability to improve education. ($225,000, by the way, is enough money to pay for three dozen 60-credit Associate degrees.)
A few days ago, I asked whose futures were being traded by these plans. These people – young mothers and their children – are paying for WCC’s new hotel and convention center. But they’re not paying in cash, or as part of their property tax assessment. Instead, they pay their portion of WCC’s “hotel bill” by giving up their opportunity to escape poverty. Worse, their babies may be among those Washtenaw County infants who never make it to their first birthday.
We need Trustees who will carefully steward our community resources to lift young parents out of poverty and into prosperity. We cannot attack the poverty through education and potentially lower the infant mortality rate here, while simultaneously building a hotel and convention center using money intended for improving education. Hiring more executives won’t reduce poverty in Washtenaw County.
The poverty problem doesn’t take care of itself
Poverty doesn’t magically go away on its own. We must put in the work to make it go away. And Washtenaw Community College is one tool we can use. If the Trustees spend our money carefully and remain focused on the mission, WCC will end up with full classrooms.
On the other hand, if the best, most financially lucrative revenue ideas that the current WCC administration can come up with do not involve putting more for-credit students in the classroom – and our elected Trustees approve them – we have already lost.
We need WCC Trustees who are willing to put their heads in this game. Washtenaw County can no longer afford to carry along WCC Trustees who show up at meetings and then say absolutely nothing. We need Trustees who will advocate for – and find ways to support – the most impoverished residents of our county.
It is time to start improving education. It is time for a change.
Photo Credit: leilacollins , via Flickr