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Census: Poverty problem lingers for state’s children

By Lee Howard

Publication: theday.com

Published September 19. 2013 3:00PM   Updated September 20. 2013 12:14AM
Latest report shows no improvement in last year

Despite the continuing economic recovery, child poverty in Connecticut was no less of a problem last year than it had been a year earlier, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Since 2008, the number of children in the state living in poverty has risen 17 percent, Census information showed. More than one in seven children statewide, a total of 117,000, are now living in families whose incomes fall below the federal poverty level, a rate unchanged from one year ago.

"These numbers bode poorly not only for the children living in need, but also for the long-term economic health of our state," said Ellen Shemitz, executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children, an advocacy group for families. "To bend the curve in child poverty, we need to make strategic investments in programs and services that work."

The state's adult poverty rate also has been on the rise. While only 9.3 percent of adults fell under the federal poverty mark five years ago, the rate has risen to 10.7 percent in the latest numbers. That's a total of 372,000 adults.

Minority households are the hardest hit. Census figures show that about 25 percent of Hispanics and African-Americans are living in poverty in the state, compared with a rate of only 5.8 percent for white residents.

Connecticut's cities also have been at the fulcrum of the state's poverty problems. Though no statistics for local cities were available, child poverty rates in Bridgeport, Waterbury and New Haven were listed at or close to 40 percent, and Hartford recorded more than half its young population below the national poverty level.

Voices for Children pointed out that the state legislature in 2004 had set a goal of reducing child poverty by half within a decade. Instead, with only a year left to reach the goal of a 5 percent child-poverty rate, the state finds itself facing escalating problems, with 14.8 percent of children currently living in impoverished households.

The child-poverty rate in Connecticut, however, is still well under the national benchmark of 22.6 percent.

"Despite the belief that the economy is recovering, it's troubling to learn that poverty levels did not improve in Connecticut between 2011 and 2012," Mary Pat Healy, executive director of the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, said in a statement.

Declining household income has been part of the poverty story. Between 2008 and last year, median income in the state has declined by nearly $6,000, according to the latest Census.

Voices for Children, based in New Haven, said the state's relatively new Earned Income Tax Credit, which rewards low income working families, should help residents in need. The organization also suggested continued investments in early childhood education.

"These poverty estimates are a stark reminder that too many individuals and families are at or near the poverty level and need our help now more than ever," said Edith Pollock Karsky, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Community Action, in a statement.

l.howard@theday.com

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