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Report: Central Wisconsin Schools Struggle With Mental Health Problems, Bullying

United Way's LIFE Report Also Says Too Many Jobs Don't Pay A Living Wage

By
United Way of Marathon County LIFE Report
Every two years the United Way of Marathon County issues its LIFE Report, detailing the problems and opportunities facing residents of central Wisconsin. Glen Moberg/WPR

Every two years the United Way of Marathon County releases its LIFE Report detailing the most significant problems and opportunities facing people who live in central Wisconsin.

According to the latest report, the region’s grade schools and high schools are struggling with mental health issues for students, including an increased risk of suicide and persistent problems of bullying.

“What we’re seeing are kids in schools that are struggling,” said Jeff Sargent, executive director of the United Way of Marathon County. “Some of it is generated obviously through their families and their relationships and the environments that they grow up in, but a lot of it is also connected with their peer groups.”

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The report indicates that 14.5 percent of Marathon County middle school students has serious thoughts of taking their own life.

“The emergence of social media, Facebook, texting, Snapchat, all of these mediums have really contributed to kids having the ability to, in essence, bully each other without having to do it face-to-face,” Sargent said.

The report also indicates the region suffers from a shortage of psychiatrists, counselors and other mental health workers.

“There are some groups working in Marathon County to bring mental health services into the schools … rather than having a parent have to take off of work and go to a counseling session,” he said. “You can have a therapist go right into the school now to meet with kids.”

Aside from children’s mental health, the LIFE Report had a mixed assessment of the labor force in central Wisconsin. Unemployment is low, but many jobs do not pay enough to support a family. In the region, 51.7 percent of people are living in poverty.

“People are working but they’re maybe not making a living wage. Some of them are working two part-time jobs,” Sargent said. “People just don’t have enough money to make ends meet.”

For single-working parents, the cost of child care can also be prohibitive, according to the report. A single mother, making $37,800 with two young children faces an annual cost of $26,000 or 68 percent of her salary.

“If 68 percent of your income is going to pay for child care, what about everything else? And that doesn’t include rent. That doesn’t include your car,” Sargent said.

The LIFE Report also identified illegal drug use and a lack of broadband internet access as significant problems in the area.

On the flip side, good schools, access to health care, affordable housing and quality of life were among the positives for central Wisconsin.

The United Way has been issuing its biennial LIFE Report for 22 years. The latest report was put together by more than 125 volunteers in which 2,100 households, chosen at random, were surveyed for the study.

LIFE stands for Leading Indicates For Excellence.

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