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Area near bottom in child poverty, new reports state

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

An increase in the number of children living in poverty in Martinsville and Henry County in recent years has resulted in the area being ranked among the worst in the state in a recent report.

Despite an increase in the number of children living in poverty, however, Martinsville’s ranking dropped from third worst in Virginia in 2010 (36.1 percent) to fourth in 2011 (36.6 percent), according to a recent report and comparative data. Galax had the third worst in 2011 at 37.3 percent, up from 35.9 percent in 2010.

Henry County’s ranking increased from 30th worst among Virginia’s 134 localities in 2010 (27.2 percent) to ninth worst (33.8 percent) in 2011.

Patrick County’s child poverty ranking decreased from tied for 21st (28.1 percent) in 2010 to 36th (27.0 percent) in 2011.

Danville had the worst child poverty percentage in both 2010 (41.7 percent of children under 18 living in poverty) and 2011 (41.3 percent), according the report.

The area’s chronically high unemployment was a major reason cited by officials.

“Obviously continued high unemployment has more and more families struggling with basic needs,” said Tanya Verlik, acting director of Henry-Martinsville Social Services. She also cited the rising cost of living.

The figures are from Voices for Virginia’s Children reports and use census data.

The number of children (ages 0-17) living in poverty in Martinsville increased from 1,049 in 2010 to 1,066 in 2011, the report said. That’s an increase of 17 children.

The number of children living in poverty in Henry County increased from 2,974 in 2010 to 3,638 in 2011, an increase of 664.

The number of children living in poverty in Patrick County decreased from 978 in 2010 to 919 in 2011.

Statewide, the percentages and numbers of children living in poverty increased from 14.6 percent (266,606 children) in 2010 to 15.6 percent (284,561) in 2011, the report said.

The percentages of children living in poverty increased from 12.5 percent in 2002 to 15.6 percent in 2011 in Virginia; increased from 24.5 percent in 2002 to 36.6 percent in 2011 in Martinsville; increased from 19.3 percent in 2002 to 33.8 percent in 2011 in Henry County; and increased from 18.4 percent in 2002 to 27.0 percent in 2011 in Patrick County.

“Virginia’s relatively strong economy and low unemployment keep the child poverty rate lower than the national average (currently 15.6 percent vs. 22.5 percent nationally) and lower than in most other states,” the report said.

However, the recession and subsequent slow recovery have driven about 65,000 more children into poverty today than in 2006, a 27 percent increase, the report added.

“The recession officially ended in June 2009, yet child poverty rates have continued to climb, prolonging the duration of poverty for thousands of children,” the report said.

“Children from poor and low-income families are much more likely to live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, have significant health problems, start school already behind, attend low-performing schools, experience learning problems and grade retention, be exposed to violence and other trauma, suffer abuse or neglect, develop behavioral problems and become delinquent. As adults, they are more likely to have dropped out of school, have chronic health problems, experience periods of unemployment, make lower wages, be single parents or have criminal justice involvement. The harmful effects of child poverty are cumulative: The longer the stay in poverty, the greater the risk of negative outcomes.”

“Another disturbing trend mirrors a persistent national trend: the steady increase in the percentage of children being reared in single-parent families,” the report added. “Thirty percent of Virginia children (compared with 27 percent a decade ago) are now in single-parent families. Children in single-parent families are nearly four times more likely to grow up poor than those in two-parent families,” the report added.

“Martinsville, Patrick and Henry locales have chronically high unemployment,” Ted Groves, Kids Count director for Voices for Virginia’s Children, said in an email to the Bulletin. Voices for Virginia’s Children is an organization that champions policies to improve the lives of kids in the state.

Groves wrote that there are foundational issues as to why Martinsville and Henry and Patrick counties have higher child poverty rates compared with Virginia.

One issue is “the death or decline of two important local industries — tobacco growing and furniture manufacturing,” Groves wrote.

“Virginia has a huge variation in child poverty in different regions. ... Northern Virginia has the smallest percent of children living in poverty (10.6% in 2010). They also have a large percentage of children living in Northern Virginia. Thus, the state average is heavy impacted by Northern Virginia because a large percentage of children live there and the unemployment rate is much less than in the rest of the state. ... Child poverty rates in all the other regions of Virginia are much higher,” he wrote. He provided a graph showing Southside’s child poverty rate was 27.3 percent in 2010, the highest regional rate in Virginia. Other regional rates in 2010 were: southwest Virginia, 25.4 percent; eastern Virginia, 24.1 percent; valley, 18.5 percent; central and Richmond, each 17.1 percent; and Hampton Roads, 16.2 percent.

“Many poor people work at least part of the year, part time, or full time. The federal poverty level in 2010 was $22,050 for a family of 4 in 2010. For a bread winner with a family of four they would have a salary average of less (than) $10.60 per hour annually. In 2011, the federal poverty level was $22,350 for a family of 4. A bread winner would make a salary average of less than $10.74 per hour annually.

“The primary reason, however, is the chronically high unemployment rate. ... The unemployment rates increased considerably during the last recession ... Historically, the unemployment rate and children living in poverty remain high for quite some time after recessions end.”

Verlik said for fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, for Martinsville and Henry County combined, 34 percent of children under age 18 and 21.3 percent of people all ages were living in poverty. That meant 14,147 people, including 4,704 children under age 18, were living in poverty in Henry County and Martinsville. That compared with Virginia’s poverty rates of 11 percent for all ages and 15.6 percent for children under 18 in fiscal 2012, she said.

In fiscal year 2011, 29.1 percent of children under 18 and 19 percent of people all ages were living in poverty in Henry County and Martinsville. That compared with Virginia’s poverty rates of 14.6 percent for children and 11.1 percent for all ages in fiscal 2011, Verlik said.

Groves wrote he hopes the 2011 calendar year data in the recent Voices for Virginia’s Children report will cause policy makers to keep safety nets in place — and enhance them — for children living in poverty. “Times like this, people are talking of cutting back budgets,” he said. He added it would not be wise to cut back on budgets that have long-term consequences for people in poverty.

 

 
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