It is hard to imagine Vigo County having a vibrant economy and a desirable quality of life while also having Indiana’s highest child-poverty rate.

The problem stands out here. Twenty- eight percent of children under 18 live in poverty. Vigo’s rate is 3 percentage points higher than the second-worst county, Lake near Chicago.

Child poverty may seem like a cause-and- effect situation — once the local economy improves, the problem will subside. Yet, Vigo County has long been among the Indiana counties with the highest child-poverty rates. The latest figures from the 2022 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps released last month by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute show the problem remains and has even worsened since 2018.

Among Hispanic and Black kids in Vigo County, nearly 40% live in poverty.

Of course, the primary consequence of child poverty is the hardships endured by the kids themselves. Systemic poverty also becomes an entrenched barrier for a community trying to grow.

That was not Vigo County’s only worrisome health and well-being shortcoming revealed in the annual County Health Rankings.

The county also has the state’s fourth-highest childcare expense burden.

Childcare costs for a household with two children consume 24% of the typical Vigo family’s household income. With a quarter of their paychecks going to childcare, necessities like safe housing, medications and healthy foods become less affordable, Christine Mugunda of the Population Health Institute told the Tribune- Star last month.

The rankings included several other red flags for the community. The county ranked among the state’s top-six-worst in food security, preventable hospital stays, sexually transmitted infections, prevalence of HIV cases and median household income. Vigo ranks among the bottom third in premature deaths, smoking and obesity. School-funding adequacy falls below state and national levels. And, when it comes to health factors (our behaviors; clinical care; and social, economic and physical environments), Vigo was among the worst at 85th out of 92 counties.

The county had some pluses, with high access to outlets for physical activity and a low rate of solo drivers on long commutes.

Remedies are possible for the county’s negatives. The community can intensify support for agencies that deal with poverty- stricken kids and families, for groups promoting nutrition and fitness, and for public education efforts on sexually transmitted and communicable diseases. Local schools now have to handle many of these issues, as well as children’s mental health problems, and need increased public support.

The County Health Rankings can be a roadmap for communities to reverse problems and bolster positives, Michael Stevenson — the project’s policy analysis team leader — told the Tribune-Star.

“Each county has strengths and weaknesses, and we encourage communities to dig into the underlying data and to identify areas where they want to improve,” Stevenson said. “We all have a role to play in creating conditions where everyone can be healthy. Start conversations about health at your church, school or community center. Talk to your elected officials and advocate for the economic security and health of your community. Explore evidence-informed solutions that can help solve some of our most pressing problems.”

Many people are working diligently to break the cycle of those problems in the Terre Haute area.

The changes they are trying to make are important to the community’s improvement. Doing the same things the same ways is not the answer.

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