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The poor children

Poverty figures released today from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book paint a heartbreaking and worrisome picture for Indiana children. They are growing poorer – at a rate much greater than the national rate.

A startling 23 percent of Hoosier children lived in poverty in 2011 – a 35 percent increase since 2005. Nationwide, the poverty rate for children is 23 percent, but the increase nationally was 21 percent.

Across all measures of economic well-being weighed in the report, Indiana children fared worse than they did eight years ago:

Parents lack secure employment: A full one-third of all children live in a household without a parent who is employed full time, year-round. “Without access to benefits and tax credits, one adult in a two-parent family with two children would need to earn about $11.41 per hour – $4.16 more than the federal minimum wage – working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year just to reach the poverty line,” according to the Casey Foundation.

Living in a household with high housing-cost burden: In spite of Indiana’s reputation for a relatively low cost of living, 31 percent of children live in households that spend more than 30 percent of pretax income on housing, whether they are renters or homeowners. “Low-income families, in particular, are unlikely to be able to meet all of their basic needs if housing consumes nearly one-third or more of their income,” the report notes.

and not working: Nine percent of Indiana teens 16 to 19 who leave school – by dropping out or graduating – are not in the workforce. The Casey Foundation points out these “disconnected youth” are at risk of experiencing negative outcomes as they become adults.

More live in poverty than the year before. In sheer numbers, 19,000 more Indiana children lived in poverty in 2011 than in 2010, a total of 361,000. “Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health,” the report notes.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of Indiana children living in high-poverty areas increased from 3 percent in 2000 to 9 percent in 2011.

The figures should alarm Indiana policymakers. The state slipped from 24th in the nation to 26th for the economic well-being of its children. Because children in poverty are more likely to struggle in school and suffer poor health, the prospects for improving child well-being overall are worse.

Indiana now ranks 30th among the states for well-being measures overall, including health, education and family and community. Ohio ranks 24th.

At election time, education issues seem to get plenty of attention, but the economic status of Indiana children receives virtually none. Until elected officials make it a priority to reverse the rising trend in child poverty, we’ll pay more to correct problems and see more children suffer.