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One of the most important functions of a newspaper is to engage its readers, to generate ideas and look for solutions to today’s problems.

This fall, the Quad-City Times will publish the first of what we hope will be many special efforts to tackle some of the most important issues in our community.

We call it Talk of the Times.

The idea is to take in your ideas, to expose all of us to the thoughts of others, and hopefully plant a seed in the people in our community who make things happen.

Our kickoff in this effort will focus on three topics: Our youth, our riverfront and our growth.

We are purposely leaving these areas loosely defined in order to take in a wide variety of perspectives. But to give you an idea what we’re thinking, we’d like to share a few thoughts on this first topic: Our youth. (In the next couple days, we’ll get to the others.)

There probably have been few times in our nation’s history that have been as challenging, or exciting, for young people.

People in their 20s and younger face great social and economic change.

The internet, in particular, has transformed our economy and our culture, and knowledge is so much more important than it's ever been. Even the communications channels and the language we use has changed in ways that are hard to keep pace with.

Amid this fast-changing environment, too many young people also face mental health problems, as the rates of depression and suicide-related thoughts, have increased markedly over the past decade or so, according to the American Psychological Association.

Young people also face growing government and student debt and a warming climate that threaten their very futures.

These threats have, as you might expect, generated growing activism among young people. We see rising rates of young people voting in elections. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported in April arise in turnout among young people between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections.

In Iowa, the turnout rate among those 18 to 29 was nearly 35 percent, almost 13 points higher than four years earlier. In Illinois, it was 27 percent, a similar increase as Iowa's.

Youth turnout is still too low, but their influence is growing.

Unfortunately, we in the the Quad-Cities also see far too many young people leaving.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon — for this area or the Midwest. A report by two economists at Iowa State University in 2017 said that Iowa's greatest workforce gain in the first half of this decade was in workers under the age of 44 with only a high school diploma. Our greatest loss: People with 4-year degrees or greater.

That kind of brain drain has long-term implications.

It's probably worse in the Quad-Cities than it is in places like Des Moines or Chicago, which tend to vacuum up the young people who do decide to stay within their states.

Then there are the 15,000 Quad-Citians under 18 years old who live in poverty. Add another 9,500 for those who are between 18 and 34. For young people in this category, the choices of where to live and work are pretty narrow.

Many young people also face violence and schools that struggle to meet educational challenges.

Even amid these challenges, though, we in the Quad-Cities have seen encouraging improvements the past few years, with a more vibrant cultural scene and busier downtowns offering housing and entertainment options that appeal to a younger set of people.

Is it sustainable?

We are eager to see what you think about these topics and the others. Perhaps your thoughts can inform or influence those who are guiding this region into the future. Perhaps you can also inform us at this newspaper about these topics – and how we might highlight them to best serve your needs.

In the next couple days, we’ll also express some thoughts about our riverfront and growth.

We hope you’ll join us.

To weigh in on our youth, our riverfront and our growth, please submit your thoughts to opinions@qctimes.com, or to Editorial Page Editor, Quad-City Times, 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, Iowa, 52801. Please keep your thoughts to 250 words or less. Even if you only have a brief opinion, jot it down and fire it off to us.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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