New data shows fewer Kansas children live in areas of concentrated poverty; 51,000 still do

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

Stats for children in concentrated poverty areas.

The number of Kansas children living in areas of concentrated poverty has dropped 13%, a data snapshot released recently from the Annie E. Casey foundation states.

From 2013-2017, the number of Kansas children living in areas of concentrated poverty was 51,000, a decrease from 56,000 from 2008-2012.

The report defines an area of concentrated poverty as census tracts where 30% or more of the population is living in poverty.

Nationally, 8.5 million, or 12% of all children, live in these areas.

Mike Deines, a spokesman from the Kansas Department for Children and Families, called the drop “not surprising,” due to the economy’s improvement following the Great Recession.

“Despite the drop, significant barriers remain for programs like cash assistance, food assistance and employment supports for families living in poverty,” he said.

High-poverty areas typically lack easy access to healthy food. The quality of schools and medical services are lower than those in other areas, and people can be exposed to environmental hazards such as poor air quality and lead. Financial difficulties and fear of violence can lead to chronic stress in children, which in turn can onset diabetes, heart disease and stroke later in life.

John Wilson, current vice president of advocacy and incoming president of the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children, said in a press release that “Kansas must do better for kids and families living in high-poverty, low-opportunity areas.”

Current state policies create barriers for low-income citizens, Wilson said, referencing the HOPE Act, welfare reform legislation that was passed under Governor Sam Brownback.

“If we truly want the next generation to thrive, they need access to high-quality health care, education, and places to live and grow,” Wilson said. “This next legislative session, we look forward to sharing information with lawmakers about changes we can make.”

Deines confirmed that the HOPE Act has created barriers for low-income Kansas families who need child care assistance, food assistance, and cash assistance to overcome crises. He also said the Department for Children and Families has been working to provide benefits, as allowed by law.

“In July the agency lowered the minimum work hours requirement for child care from 28 hours per week to 20 hours per week in order to provide safe learning environments for more working families,” he said. “An additional employment support program was introduced in 2019 to assist families receiving food assistance with job search skills, job training and child care for those unemployed or underemployed.”

Deines said the department hopes to make progress on reversing HOPE Act policies through legislative action in the coming years.

The data snapshot also showed that compared to its neighboring states, Kansas had the second highest percent decrease of children living in areas of concentrated poverty. In Colorado, 107,000 children living in these areas reduced to 59,000, a 44% drop. Missouri and Oklahoma had 10 and 8 percent drops, respectively. Nebraska’s percent of children living in areas of concentrated poverty raised by 14%.

Other key findings show that African-American and American Indian children are seven times as likely to live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty compared to white children. Latino children are five times as likely.

Children living in urban atmospheres are the most likely to be in areas of concentrated poverty. 23% of children living in cities, 11% of children living in rural communities, and 5% of children living in suburban communities reside in areas of concentrated poverty.


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