Omaha World-Herald, January 15, 2008: More Nebraska children living in poverty, report says

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LINCOLN – Nebraska has a higher percentage of working parents than any other state, yet its families are falling into poverty at a rate faster than the national average.

Voices for Children on Tuesday unveiled its 15th annual report on the well-being of Nebraska’s children with some sobering numbers that leaders say could portend more problems for struggling families.

A common factor underlying many of the problems: childhood poverty.

Nebraska’s child poverty rate rose 50 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to the newest Kids Count report published by Voices for Children. The poverty figures indicate that 15 percent of Nebraska children are impoverished, while 36 percent are living in low-income homes.

Poverty rates have increased even as Nebraska continues to embrace the idea that work pays, said Kathy Bigsby Moore, executive director of Voices for Children. Unfortunately, she said, many jobs don’t pay enough for impoverished families to get ahead.

“We’re actually quite concerned” about emerging trends, said Moore, who said she never has seen such a dramatic increase in poverty during nearly a quarter century of child advocacy work.

Voices for Children released its report at the Lincoln YWCA, just blocks from the State Capitol, where lawmakers are beginning to discuss bills for the new legislative session. As in past years, the child advocacy group used the event to highlight legislation and policies it will push lawmakers to adopt.

High on the group’s lobbying list is State Sen. Dwite Pedersen’s Legislative Bill 843, which would make parole an option for juveniles sentenced to life in prison. While juvenile crime is complicated, many of these youngsters started life at a significant disadvantage, child advocates said.

The disadvantages can continue on social, physical, emotional and educational levels. However, Pedersen said, many young people overcome these disadvantages, even those who have committed the most serious offenses.

Pedersen said he has worked with youthful offenders and watched many mature into good, solid citizens. These young people deserve a chance to be contributors to society, he said.

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