Indianapolis Star, June 12, 2008: Report: More kids in state slip into poverty

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By Jeremy Herb

The number of children living in poverty in Indiana rose nearly 29 percent from 2000 to 2006, an increase nearly five times the national rate, according to a new ranking of child welfare.

As a result, Indiana’s child poverty level for the first time matched the national rate of 18 percent in 2006, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported in its Kids Count report released today.

Local advocates said the numbers aren’t surprising in light of job losses in Indiana. They also said some of the taxpayer-funded help that low-income families receive is being scaled back as more Hoosier children slip into poverty.

“When needs go up in times of economic downturns, that’s when state budgets tighten and services are cut,” said Rochelle Finzel, director of Indiana’s Institute for Working Families. “There’s always those issues that funding goes down when people need it most.”

In part because of reforms aimed at moving people off welfare rolls, the number of Hoosiers receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dropped 9 percent from March 2006 to March 2008. The number of children receiving TANF also dropped by 1 percent in the past year to 76,801. The state, on the other hand, increased by 15 percent the amount in food stamps it issued from 2006 to 2008, to $62.8 million.

The Casey Foundation report is based on 10 factors, including child poverty. It ranked Indiana 34th overall, down three spots from the state’s 2007 ranking.

About 277,000 children in Indiana live in households below the federal poverty income level, or $20,444 a year for a family of two adults and two children in 2006. The number of children in extreme poverty — who live in families earning below 50 percent of the poverty level — was up 60 percent since 2004 and stood at 8 percent in ’06.

Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Indiana Youth Institute, said three factors are causing Indiana’s poverty rate to climb: loss of jobs, especially in manufacturing; an increase in out-of-wedlock births; and a rise in immigrants, who historically are the lowest-paid workers.

In the past year, Indiana has shed 13,000 industrial jobs, reducing the number of manufacturing jobs to 539,300 and marking a decline of 131,500 factory positions since 2000. The state has shed 20,000 jobs in all industries since employment peaked at 3 million in 2000. The overall employment figures for Indiana are positive because metro Indianapolis has added about 62,000 jobs.

The percentage of children born to single parents climbed to 40.1 percent last year, increasing 16 percent since 2000, according to Kids Count data.

And in 2006, 23 percent of children in immigrant families in Indiana lived below the poverty line.

Stanczykiewicz and Finzel said economic conditions must turn around before the poverty rate will improve.

“We really need to let kids know that the days of a parent graduating high school to support their family — that’s over,” Stanczykiewicz said. “You need post-secondary education or training.”

The state has attempted to address that problem in part by working with the Indiana Youth Institute to get more at-risk children enrolled in job-training programs and by expanding the Ivy Tech Community College system.

But dollars are limited.

The Hawthorne Community Center on Indianapolis’ Westside has seen more families seeking assistance as its state funding for child-care programs has been cut 20 percent, Deputy Director Betty Harris said.

Funding for its program providing free care for children before and after school and in the summer was cut by more than $6,500 this year. Harris said the decrease, which starts July 1, will force the center to reduce staff hours, potentially cutting up to 20 children from the program.

Cutting back

Several parents at the Hawthorne center on Wednesday afternoon said losing the after-school and summer programs would force them to cut back on work or lean on relatives to take care of their children.

Laura Sparks, who works full time as a security guard, said she would have to leave her 12- and 6-year-old children home alone and work only part time if she couldn’t send them to Hawthorne.

Whether other similar programs face such cuts was unclear Wednesday. Officials with the state Family and Social Services Administration were unavailable for comment because they were busy attending to flooding-related duties.

Addressing the problem

State governments across the country have made attempts to reduce child poverty, which has increased nationwide, according to a report in April by the Center for Law and Social Policy.

More than a dozen states either have proposed legislation or called for committees to look at the problem.

In the Midwest, Michigan has made plans for a November summit on child poverty, while Illinois has legislation pending to set a target for cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015, according to the report.

Connecticut, which has the third-lowest child poverty rate in the nation, was the first state to enact a law setting a target to reduce its child poverty in half, a goal it hopes to achieve by 2014. The state created a council that reports annually on how the state can reduce poverty.

The Casey Foundation report shows Indiana has improved in several categories, cutting its high school dropout rate by 38.5 percent and its teen pregnancy rate by 12 percent. Still, both remain above the national average.

Conditions in Indiana also have worsened since 2000 in several other categories examined in the report:

The number of low-birthweight babies increased 12 percent, from 7.4 percent to 8.3 percent, while the U.S. rate went up from 7.6 percent to 8.2 percent.

The infant mortality rate increased 3 percent, from 7.8 percent to 8 percent, compared with the national rate, which held steady at 6.9 percent.

The number of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round income jumped 19 percent, from 27 percent to 32 percent.

Call Star reporter Jeremy Herb at (317) 444-6306.

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