And who knew THIS was Austin?

I’m working on a story for the first issue about the United Way Capital Area’s recent change to its funding model. David Balch, president of UWCA, was kind enough to spend some an hour getting me up to speed about the particulars of this change. It’s a complicated story and it makes me wish I were a better journalist, but it’s the kind of thing I love to write about. I’ll do my best.

Whether you support the new model or not, you can’t deny some of the facts and stats that compelled the UWCA to rethink its strategy. I consider myself a pretty informed person, but here are just some of the things I didn’t know … and that scare the bejesus out of me:

1. About 40% of Central Texas children entering Central Texas public schools are at leaset 18 months behind in basic language and cognitive skills.

2. 40% of Central Texas families live at or below the Family Security Index income level, which measures real income required to provide families’ most essential needs.

3. Austin has a higher proportion of workers earning poverty level wages than any comparison city its size – and the highest racial income inequality among comparison cities.

4. One-third of Central Texas children entering 9th grade do not make it to the 12th grade three years later.

Let’s take another look at that last one: Out of three 9th graders in Central Texas public high schools, one of them will drop out. What do you think that person will do without a high school degree? I don’t care if you’re not worried that they don’t make as much as the other two kids, but you’ve got to care that there will be more people in our community doing whatever they have to do to make ends meet, and living one paycheck away from needing support from social services or the state.

The scarier thing is, that stat doesn’t represent an improvement in our community – in fact, that situation is getting worse.

What can we do about it? We are churning out poor people and high-school dropouts like there’s no tomorrow. That’s sure to keep Austin weird. Not in a good way.

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