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Kids Count Survey: Despite progress in survey, poverty still problem for East Texas children

By Melissa Greene mgreene@news-journal.com
June 30, 2013 at 11 p.m.


Two steps forward may not always represent progress.

Texas moved up from 44 to 42 in the nation for overall well-being of children this past week, based the 2013 Kids Count Survey, compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin and the national Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Those two steps up for Texas, did not reflect an improvement in the lives of Texas children, but rather a decline in other states.

"It's not so much that we did better as other states got worse," said CPPP director Frances Deziney.

States such as South Carolina, which dropped two positions to 45, helped nudge Texas up a bit.

The struggle is visible to Joyce Williams, director of the Boys & Girls Club of Longview since 2011.

This summer's enrollment of 321 children is a third larger than this past year, she said.

"With the definition of poverty being 51 percent of the population, it affects social skills, self-esteem, even their mood," Williams said. "These kids are banged up because of their status."

In 2010, the latest year data was available, slightly more than 20 percent of Gregg County children lived in poverty.

In Harrison and Upshur counties, the number was just under 24 percent.

Kids Count is a project of the Casey Foundation, formed to help track the status of children in the United States for policy and informational purposes.

State rankings are broken down into four categories: economic well-being, education, health and family, and community.

Each of those contain four indicators that represent what the organization says a child needs to thrive. Nine of those 16 indicators improved in Texas.

Texas ranked 30th in economic well-being, which includes the poverty rate, parents' lack of secure employment, children living in households with a high cost burden and teens who are not working and are not in school.

Deziney said three out of those four indicators worsened.

The sole improvement was a one percent drop in the number of children living in a home where rent or mortgage payments are more than one-third of total income, which could be attributed to foreclosures during the nationwide recession, and the end of the recession itself in 2011.

"A high cost burden is an indication of financial stress because there's not a lot of room left in the budget for food, health care or childcare," Deziney said.

The number of Texas children in poverty increased two percent between 2010 and 2011, with almost 1.9 million living in households where one or both parents worked while supporting two children, but earned less than $22,350 in household income during 2011.

The state ranked 48th in the nation in the family and community index, largely due to increased poverty.

The number of children living in high-poverty areas jumped 5 percent, to nearly 1.2 million children. A high poverty area is defined as one where an entire neighborhood earns below the poverty level.

According to trends in the Kids Count Data Book, the statewide 27 percent poverty rate is higher than the national average of 24 percent, and has consistently been higher since 1980.

All four education indicators show slight improvement, but Deziney said since the data was collected before the $5.4 billion sliced from Texas schools in 2011, next year's report could show significant decline.

Texas ranked 31st among states for education, with more high school students graduating on time and more children attending preschool.

State-level data, such as TAKS scores, are included in the rankings, Deziney said.

The number of fourth-grade students not proficient in reading grew by a percentage point to 72 percent, while nearly 10 percent of eighth-grade students performed better at math than in 2010.

With a health ranking at 36 in the country, the state improved with 13 percent of uninsured children gaining coverage, down from 18 percent in 2010, and fewer children and teen deaths occurring between 2005 and 2011.

Data on the well-being of children in the United States was compiled from information collected in 2011 by the CPPP, United States Census Bureau and other organizations.

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