If poverty were a city in Oregon ....

“David Sarasohn: A bleak picture of child poverty in Oregon”
July 23, 2014
David Sarasohn, The Oregonian

If there were a town named Poverty, mused Tonia Hunt of Children First for Oregon, it would be the largest city in Oregon. Its population would run heavily to children, because a higher percentage of Oregon’s children are poor than other age groups.

It would look familiar to Oregon’s urban residents in another way…


 

“The paths out of Poverty are closing,” said Hunt in an interview. “The bridges out of Poverty are crumbling. It’s very hard to leave the home town of Poverty.”
That’s one view of the 2014 Kids Count statistical report on Oregon’s kids, released Tuesday. The Annie E. Casey Foundation compiles annual assessments for each state, noting progress and retreat, ranking states like a Top 50 hits countdown.

In some ways, this year’s countdown is encouraging for Oregon. Based on numbers from 2008 to 2012, Kids Count finds a considerable improvement in the state’s standing on children’s health, with Oregon kids without health insurance dropping from 13 percent to 6 percent. From 2005 to 2012, teen births in Oregon dropped from 33 to 24 per thousand.

Educationally, the rate of high school students not graduating on time dropped from 27 percent to 22 percent from 2005-06 to 2011-2012, although Oregon still falls short of the national standard of 19 percent. The number of Oregon fourth-graders not proficient in reading declined from 71 percent to still less-than-heartwarming 67 percent.

“This report shows us what is possible when the state puts a concerted effort into turning the tide for children,” said Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon, in a statement with the release Tuesday.  “It also shows us what happens when we don’t go far enough.”

The report’s findings showing Oregon’s shortcomings cover kids’ economic condition here. From 2005 to 2012, the poverty rate for Oregon kids rose from 18 percent to 23 percent. In 2012, 34 percent of Oregon kids lacked parents with secure employment, up from 29 percent in 2008.

Overall, Oregon ranked 40th in the country in family economic stability, right between Alabama and South Carolina. (Washington is 27th.)

Part of Oregon’s problem, of course, has been its steady drop down the national income rankings. But for families, especially young families, the situation is worsened by the state’s high housing and child care costs.

“Young families with young children can pay the equivalent of college tuition to have their children in child care,” noted Hunt, “at a time when they really can’t afford it.”

Or, of course, the parents can’t work.

At a time when studies have shown Oregon, considering parent income and care costs, having the least affordable child care in the country, it’s a major force undermining family budgets. Last month, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, P-Portland, called for $250 million investment in strengthening child care quality and availability and full-day kindergarten programs.

“Middle class families are struggling to balance demands at home and work,” Kotek told the Oregon Early Learning Council.  “By putting our money where our mouth is, Oregon can support working parents while giving children the tools they need to succeed.” 

Meanwhile, poverty in Oregon, especially for families and children, is not only rising, it’s becoming more concentrated. Kids Count found that from 2000 to 2012, the number of Oregon kids living in high-poverty areas, while still below the national average, rose from 2 percent to 7 percent.

The number fits with a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week, reported in The Oregonian by Betsy Hammond, showing Oregon having one of the highest increases in the country in percentage of population living in high poverty areas. From 2000 to 2010, the number of Oregonians living in census tracts with at least 20 percent in poverty rose from 10 percent to 26 percent. The highest percentages are in rural counties east of the Cascades.

It’s another part of Oregon’s steady decline, by Kids Count’s calculation, from being in the top half of states for children to its current overall position at 30th. In terms of the state’s future, we’re going in the wrong direction.

“As a native Oregonian, I grew up thinking Oregon was God’s country, flowing with soy milk and organic honey,” said Hunt. “The numbers on child poverty in our state are incongruent with Oregon’s promise.”

The increase in concentration suggest that in Oregon, Poverty is indeed becoming a place. And besides an actual address, another aspect of Oregon’s town of Poverty might be familiar to the state’s residents:

Sprawl.

Read the original article here.

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