Monday, November 26, 2007

State's child-poverty rate on rise

from the Indianapolis Star

Report also ranks Indiana near bottom in terms of well-being of low-income children
Star and news services report

Indiana ranks as the 11th-worst state in the U.S. in terms of the status of its poor children, according to a new report.

The number of Hoosier children living in poverty has increased by nearly 21 percent since 2000, a growth rate nearly twice that of the U.S. average for the period.

Until now, little research has focused exclusively on those children. The new report by the Kids Count program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which advocates for needy children and families, is the first to look at the well-being of low-income children on a state-by-state basis, said study co-author William O'Hare.

O'Hare said other rankings often masked how low-income children fare because states have widely varying percentages of poor children. The new report, based on Census Bureau data, tells their story better, he said.

"Many states that looked as if they're doing quite well when all children were assessed don't look so good when you assess only low-income children," said O'Hare, a demographer and senior fellow with the Kids Count program.

According to the new study, low-income children who fare the worst in health care, education and family structure live in some of the nation's wealthiest states, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.

Those states have big cities with pockets of poverty and more households headed by single women, said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families.

The report found that states where low-income kids fared best are clustered in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions. The top five: Utah, North Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota.

O'Hare said those states have a greater sense of community, and people tend to do more to take care of one another.

Haskins said they also have more families led by married parents. Poverty, a major factor in a poor child's well-being and development, is five times greater in female-headed households than in those with two parents, he said.

In Indiana, more than one-third of all children live in families headed by a single parent.

And nearly 10 percent of Hoosier children live in families struggling with "extreme poverty," getting by on incomes at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level for a family of four is about $20,500.

Growing up in poverty makes children vulnerable to a number of problems, including impediments to their physical, emotional and academic development. Poverty can affect cognitive development and the ability to learn; promote behavioral, social and emotional problems; and lead to poor health, according to research by the National Center for Children in Poverty. Children living in or near poverty also are more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect and to become teen parents.

There also is a significant financial toll, according to a study released this year by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group that advocates for programs to reduce poverty. The drag on the economy as these poor children become adults was estimated at $500 billion a year because they are less productive and make lower salaries, are convicted of more crimes and have higher health-related expenses.

"Clearly, people with resources can connect their children with the opportunities and support they need," said John Brandon, president of the Marion County Commission on Youth.

"But those without the resources, often the people we call the 'working poor' -- who are maybe holding down two jobs and don't have the same time or resources -- just don't have the wherewithal to get their children involved in the programs that could really help them."

The study found children in low-income families -- those below 200 percent of the poverty level, about $41,000 for a family of four -- scored lower on 27 of 29 well-being indicators than did higher-income kids. Nearly 40 percent of Indiana children fall into that category.

The only poor children who did as well as or better than those not weighed down by poverty were those who attend religious services weekly and have dinner with their families at least six days a week.

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