More children in poverty than during the recession, report says

Laverne Woods

More Maryland children live in poverty now than at the depth of the Great Recession, researchers say in a new report, as the economic recovery has been slow to reach those struggling the most.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which reports annually on the condition of children nationwide, found that 180,000 children in Maryland were impoverished in 2013, the last year for which data was available. That's 14 percent of the state's children, up from 10 percent in 2008.

"What we see is that the economic recovery has not lifted all boats," said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy at the foundation. "There are still millions of families living below the poverty line."

The foundation is to release its 26th annual Kids Count data book on Tuesday.

One in seven Maryland children live in poverty, defined in 2015 as a family of four making $24,250 or less.

Nonso Umunna, the research director at the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth, says the financial circumstances of children affect every aspect of their lives, from opportunities for education to access to health care.

"If your economic state is poor, that backs up against you," he said. "From time to time you hear stories of children who came from poverty and were able to become successful, but that is more the exception than the rule."

Laverne Woods wants a better life for her son. The Northwest Baltimore woman struggles to provide for 10-year-old Cortez Scott on her earnings caring for elderly people at a medical day care center. The job pays $9.50 an hour, and her schedule is erratic; she rarely works a full 40 hours in a week.

Woods would like better pay, but many of the jobs in her profession require late evening and night hours. She doesn't want to leave her son at their home alone at night, so she pinches pennies to make ends meet.

Her 23-year-old daughter sometimes helps as well.

"I may make it look easy, but I have to split my checks up," she said. "I am living from check to check."

Speer said such challenges are common.

"The majority of the story is about jobs and parents having jobs," she said. "There are fewer jobs available that pay well enough to get a family into a middle income neighborhood."

The recovery has come more slowly to Maryland than the rest of the country, in part because much of the economy is built around federal jobs and contracts. The government kept jobs during the recession, but began cutting afterward.

"We need to diversify Maryland's economy away from federal spending, which will not have the same amount of growth as it has had in the past," research economist Richard Clinch said.

Maryland fared better in the Casey foundation's report than much of the nation. The state is 11th for child well being, a measure that takes into account health, economic, educational and other factors.

The state made strides in several areas, including education and health care.

The number of fourth-graders not proficient in reading declined nearly 10 percent, and the number of students not graduating high school also dropped.

"In the long term," Umunna said, "it means more children will be able to go to college, and we know that in this economy, education is very important. The more educational opportunities you have, the more likely you are to succeed."

The number of child and teen deaths also dropped, from 30 per 100,000 in 2008 to 22 in 2013. Slightly more children have health insurance, too.

"Without health insurance, parents might not be able to afford taking them to the hospital and that affects their lives in many ways," Umunna said. "Having that health insurance enables parents to take them to the hospital when sick and provide for their health needs."

The Family League of Baltimore offers a program to keep families intact when they are facing hardships. Woods turned to the group when her son started acting out. She said having a male mentor has helped calm him.

The Family League looks at poverty as a four-legged stool, affected by health outcomes, underperforming schools, high crime and unemployment. If these institutional problems aren't addressed, the group says, the problem of poverty will persist.

"Poverty definitely reaches across generations," said Demaune A. Millard, Family League's chief operating officer. "Unless you are in a position to address some of the systematic challenges, that is the only way you will be able to make significant progress."
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