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Guest column: An innovative step toward improving the lives of Washington’s boys and men

by Rep. Mary Dye
| January 26, 2023 1:00 AM

Ours is a complicated society. Enormous economic and social changes have many people losing ground in the classroom, the workplace, and in the family. These challenges have especially manifested themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those with the most difficulties are males. Simply put, boys and men are struggling. While you may question this, the data speaks for itself.

Of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in our state, 70% were male. Males accounted for 77% of suicide deaths in Washington from 2010 to 2019. Most of those suicides involved young males between the ages of 10 and 14.

Men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs, leading to emergency room visits and overdose deaths. As many as 66% of the 10,507 people who died from excessive alcohol use in Washington between 2017 and 2021 were male.

There are wide gender gaps at all levels of education, with boys and men trailing girls and women. Boys are far more likely to be suspended in Washington's schools. Three of four suspensions in our state's classrooms involve boys. There is a full year gender gap in reading between girls and boys in Seattle's high schools, with boys lagging behind. The struggles of our K-12 schools to address boy differences and readiness in learning are driving lower admissions for young men into post-secondary education and training.

Statistics on boys and men in Washington state are lengthy and daunting. But they clearly show Washington's male population experiencing declines in the areas of well-being, educational achievement, finding success in family, relationships, career satisfaction, and other issues.

Why are boys and men struggling? What can we do about it?

The first step is to acknowledge it's a serious problem and should no longer be ignored. That's why I have introduced legislation to create a Washington State Commission on Boys and Men, the first of its kind in the nation.

Under House Bill 1270, the Washington State Commission on Boys and Men would focus on key areas involving males, including education, jobs, careers and financial health, fatherhood and family relationships, physical and mental health and the experiences of males in the criminal justice system and other court systems.

The commission would be comprised of nine voting members, appointed by the governor and leaders of the four legislative caucuses, and two non-voting House and Senate members from both parties.

Commission duties include:

• Identifying specific needs of boys, male youth and men;

• Providing recommendations to the Legislature and the governor;

consult with state agencies on policy development and implementation;

• Providing a clearinghouse for information regarding boys and men legislation;

• Advocating for removal of legal and social barriers for males; and

• Holding public hearings to gather input on issues related to the unique problems and needs of boys, male youth and men.

This legislation has attracted national attention from C-SPAN and The New York Times. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow and author, Richard Reeves, considered an expert in this field, recently met with me and other legislators in Olympia and penned an article for Brookings: “The case for a Commission on Boys and Men: Will Washington state lead the way”- https://tinyurl.com/BoysMenCommission. He believes this commission is an important precedent that could be replicated across the nation.

But first, we need to get it passed here in Washington. The bill is in the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee where I'm working to secure a hearing.

We need to get to the bottom of these issues, find out the root causes, and then seek thoughtful policy that lifts our male population toward better, happier and more successful lives. I believe this commission is not only the first step, but the right step, toward achieving that goal.

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, is in her fifth term representing the 9th Legislative District in Eastern Washington.