Government

One in five kids in county living in poverty

Report calls on state legislators to help low-income families.

December 20, 2013
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The 2013 Kids Count in Michigan report revealed more Kent County children will spend the holidays in poverty this year than in previous years.

The report, which was issued last week, found that 31,353 children in the county between the ages of 0 to 17 were living in poverty in 2011, a number that gave the county a child-poverty rate of 19.9 percent.

The report said 26,358 Kent County children were in that same dismal condition in 2005, when the child-poverty rate was 16 percent.

“Poverty can have a profound impact on children, affecting their ability to get healthy foods, their emotional well-being and their general health,” said Adam London, administrative health officer of the Kent County Health Department, in a statement.

“The cycle of poverty in Kent County must be broken to give these children a chance to develop and mature into healthy adults,” he added.

The report pegged Kent County at 18th of the state’s 83 counties for child poverty in 2011, meaning 65 counties recorded a higher child-poverty rate than Kent that year. There were 157,786 children living in the county in 2011, down from 164,788 in 2005. Although there were 7,002 fewer children living in the county, there were 4,995 more children living in poverty than in 2005.

Nearly 560,000 children in Michigan, or about 25 percent, were living in poverty in 2011.

“Though the recession officially ended years ago, the toll on children is still apparent with the persistently high number of children living in need,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The nation’s official poverty line is $23,283 per year for a family of four that has two adults and two children. That figure can vary based on the size of a household.

The Kids Count report also found 32.5 percent of Kent County children between the ages of 0 to 5 received food assistance last year. In 2005, 22.5 percent of those youngsters received that help.

The report also found more county children were living in households that had been investigated for abuse and neglect. The Kent County number, 94 per 1,000 children, was slightly higher than the state average of 90 per 1,000 children.

However, teen births in the county were down 16 percent, and infant mortality dropped by 21 percent from the years 2003-2005 to 2009-2011.

The Kids Count report recommended that state lawmakers make changes to alleviate the problem. Some of those changes were raising the minimum wage, reinstating the earned income tax credit to 20 percent, increasing the child-care subsidy level, and supporting a successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“Together, these recommendations have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of low-income families in our state by encouraging work and making kids and families healthier,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The Kids Count report is compiled by the Michigan League for Public Policy. More information is available at mlpp.org.

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