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Tool shows benefits of education in communities

United Way
Jul. 14, 2009 @ 12:08 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The positive effects of education may now be clearer than ever, thanks to a Web-based tool called the Common Good Forecaster.

The tool, developed by United Way of America in conjunction with the American Human Development Project, is the topic of much discussion by some local advocates. It will be part of the focus of an upcoming United Way of the River Cities community leaders luncheon on Friday, July 24.

"It's an excellent tool," said Laura Gilliam, executive director of United Way of the River Cities. "Oftentimes we talk about, well, what if somebody graduates from high school? What would those effects be in the community? What if somebody got a college degree or more people lived here who had college degrees? What this does is actually allow you to visually see, as well as hear, those numbers and what that effect is."

Some local United Way members have been using the new tool since it was unveiled at a national conference in May. The forecaster can be used by anyone by visiting www.liveunited.org/forecaster.

The forecaster allows users to look at particular states or counties and see how different levels of education benefit health, financial stability, achievement and community involvement. The tool uses estimates from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

"As soon as I looked at this forecaster, it really put a visual to what types of problems we have in our community and how small changes can make drastic improvements," said Cassey Bowden, director of resource development and marketing for United Way of the River Cities.

Bowden said having a visual that shows people how just a little more education can decrease even crime is powerful.

"It gives people a little more initiative and drive," she said.

Gilliam said areas across life improve by just having one more year of schooling.

For example, the more people who further their education, the more people vote, she said.

According to the Common Good Forecaster, if all adults in Cabell County moved up one education level, the unemployment rate would drop by 1.5 percent in Cabell County and personal median income would increase from $27,053 to $34,363. Personal median income would increase from $25,541 to $33,483 in Wayne County.

Moving up one level means those without high school diplomas would graduate, those with high school degrees would get some college, and those with some college would earn four-year degrees.

Improved education levels can add as much as 2.2 years to one's life expectancy in Lincoln County, and decrease the murder rate by four per 100,000 residents in Cabell County, according to the United Way.

"It's pretty tremendous," Gilliam said. "It makes these connections we don't always think about."

Anyone interested in attending the invitation-only community leaders luncheon should call the local United Way office at 304-523-8929. The luncheon will be at noon, Friday, July 24, at Frankie D's.



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