Posted by Gerard Matthews on March 16th 2012
New figures on child poverty compiled by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families show a disturbing upward trend that is likely to continue as our economy slowly recovers. The child poverty rate in Arkansas now stands at 26.8 percent, a number that is significantly higher than the national average of 20.1 percent.
According to the report, the "2012 Arkansas Child Poverty Update," the child poverty rate in Arkansas has grown by over two percent during the past ten years for which data is available. The economic well-being of our children is an important issue for obvious reasons, but child poverty has both short- and long-term impacts that are less apparent (i.e. it can create significant costs to our health and criminal justice systems and negatively impact the economy).
The data show minority children are much more likely to live in poverty, as are children from single-parent households. Children whose parents have a lower level of education are also at risk. The recession has also increased the number of children living in poverty.
"The numbers are bit discouraging," says AACF executive director Rich Huddleston. "Ideally, no child would live in poverty. The good news is that Arkansas has begun to make some public investments in our children that have the potential to reduce level of child poverty over time and those are things the state needs to continue to invest in. This really is an issue that affects all of us."
Poverty has both short- and long-term effects on children. Those who grow up in low-income families tend to be less healthy and also have a higher likelihood of experiencing chronic health problems as adults. These same children usually do not have the same level of educational success as their higher-income peers. Finally, poverty is not something children are likely to outgrow. Kids who live in poverty are more likely to be poor as adults.
There is no single solution to child poverty, but there are programs and policies that lessen its negative effects. For more information, take a look at AACF's 2010 report, "Child Poverty in Arkansas 2010: A Deepening Problem," and the 2010 final report from the Arkansas Legislative Task Force on Reducing Poverty and Promoting Economic Opportunity.
The following programs and policies have been effective in fighting poverty.
• Promoting the healthy development of young children
o Greater access to ARKids First, a "medical home," and well-child check ups
o Expanded use of coordinated school health and wellness programs
o Improving child nutrition through summer meal, SNAP, and innovative anti-hunger programs
• Improving education outcomes by ensuring every child has an equal opportunity to learn (OTL)
o Ensuring every child reads at grade level by end of the 3rd grade
o Reducing class sizes in the early grades
o Promoting parental involvement in schools and their child's education
o Expanding access to quality out-of-school programs, including after school and summer programs
o Expanding access to quality early childhood programs for children birth to age five
• Making work pay for parents
o Greater utilization of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
o Creating a State EITC
o Ensuring access to quality child care that meets the needs of parents
• Promoting adult education and job preparation for low income adults through programs such as Career Pathways