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Poverty impacting children, our future

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Chronic and increasing unemployment. Home foreclosures. Loss of health insurance. More homeless families. All of these factors paint a bleak economic picture. But this is not a startling revelation. We’re all fully aware of our economic conditions. But some recently released data does reveal some startling statistics.
According to the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the U.S. Census, the economy is having a negative impact on the most vulnerable of society – children.
The census reveals that 46.2 million earned less than the poverty level in 2010. The previous year there were 43.6 million people below the poverty level. Analysts attribute the increase to the 86.7 million working-age adults who were unemployed for at least one week. More than 600,000 lost jobs in 2010. The median annual income also dropped by $1,154. Average hourly wages dropped from $10.34 to $10.26.
More than 900,000 people lost health insurance, leaving almost 50 million people without insurance. Of the 46 million Americans in poverty, about 20.5 million were considered to be in deep poverty. A family of four whose annual income was less than $22,314 was considered to be in poverty.
There were 5.9 million people between the ages of 25-34 who are still living at home. Of those, almost half would be considered in poverty if they didn’t live at home.
The poverty rate for children younger than 18 increased from 20.7 to 22 percent. One in every four children is poor, according to the KIDS COUNT Data Book. While census figures reveal the grim statistics of the economy, KIDS COUNT examines the impact of the economic conditions on the nation’s children.
South Carolina ranks 45th in the United States for child well-being, according to the study’s 10 key indicators. Baron Holmes, projects director for KIDS COUNT South Carolina, said the study looked closely at unemployment and foreclosures figures.
The study found:
u 140,000 children in South Carolina are in families with one or both parents unemployed.
u South Carolina had the second-highest percentages in the nation (6 percent) of children of unemployed parents and the third highest percentage in the nation (13.6) with at least one resident parent unemployed in 2009.
u The state ranked 47th in the nation in low birth weight, infant and child deaths and single-parent families. The state was 41st in child poverty.
“Until education and unemployment are improved dramatically in South Carolina, the well-being of children in South Carolina will remain in the bottom six or eight states – as it has been over the past two decades,” Holmes said.
At the recent local State of Education event, Dr. Gene Moore, Lancaster County School District superintendent, shared some information that supported the dire statistics.
Too many children are coming to school ill-prepared. Gaps are no longer appearing in third or fifth grade, but the very first day a child starts school. And more than 55 percent of students in Lancaster are on free or reduced lunches.
While the economic forecast is not encouraging, neither is the future of our children. Efforts are needed now to stop the downward spiral for the youngest in our society.
“We must have a greater focus on a comprehensive, coordinated plan for the betterment of our children,” said Sue Williams, CEO of Children’s Trust of South Carolina, an agency whose goal is to prevent child abuse.
Schools like McDonald Green Elementary are implementing programs that help struggling families by providing school supplies, clothing, food and tutoring.
“Poverty could have a negative effect on students academically, socially, as well as behaviorally,” said McDonald Green Principal Michelle Crosby.
We commend the schools, agencies and organizations that are focusing on helping at-risk students. But we all must do our part. While we cannot immediately change the economy, we can lessen poverty’s impact on the most vulnerable of society. To not do so will lead to dire consequences – for all of us.