Child poverty continues to rise in Delaware, according to report

Child poverty in Delaware continues to be a significant problem, according to an annual report outlining child well-being across the nation.

In 2015, there were 39,000 Delaware children, or 19 percent, living in poverty—compared to 35,000 children in 2014—according to new statistics in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 Kids Count report, released Tuesday.

“Children’s experiences today shape the adults that they will grow into tomorrow, impacting our collective long-term success,” said Janice Barlow, director of Kids Count Delaware, located at the University of Delaware.

“Therefore, it is critical to measure and to understand the conditions in which children live so that we can invest our time, effort and resources to ensure the best return on investment for Delaware.”

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The report ranks states in the areas of health, education, economic well-being and family and community. Delaware has climbed four spots in the area of health, ranking 14th in the nation, but fell 11 positions to 29th in the area of child economic well-being. Delaware has an overall ranking of 23rd for child well-being.

The numbers show the First State has made some progress—there was a 29 percent decrease in child mortality over a three-year period, more children have health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act, less children are living in households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing and more parents are gaining secure incomes.

However, child poverty continues to linger in Delaware. In addition to the 39,000 children living below the poverty line, the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas has increased by 25 percent and the percentage of children living in single-parent families also has risen since 2010.

“[The alarming statistic is] the number of children in poverty that’s still so high this long after the recession, we have not gone yet back to pre-recession levels, and partly that’s because poverty has such a great impact on every other indicator we report on. A child’s economic well-being impacts their health, education and so much more. It really is worrisome,” Barlow said.

“I think poverty in itself is a really complex issue, so a lot of the low hanging fruit, the easy solutions, have already been tried, and now we need to get into more complex solutions and really focus in order to address that.”

The report makes several recommendations to improve the state’s statistics, most of which would require state and federal legislative measures.

In the area of economic health, the report recommends expanding programs that create economic stability for families, including offering tax breaks for child care.

In the area of health, it states the importance of continued health insurance for children, even as Congress looks to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Health insurance for kids is really important, because if kids have health insurance they’re more likely to have preventative care and take care of problems before they get out of control and expensive,” Barlow said.

“With what’s happening to us as a nation we need to focus on, whatever comes down the pipe, kids are held harmless, that we’re not pushing kids off the rolls, because they need to continue to be a part of that system and have access to that preventative care.”

In the area of education, the report recommends investments in early childhood education programs—something Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, promised to make a priority, but that the Joint Finance Committee has looked to eliminate.

As Delaware faces a budget deficit of nearly $400 million, the state is considering several budget cuts, including to Kids Count. Barlow said she hopes the state’s budget crisis won’t affect programs that help those in need.

“I worry what that would mean for programs that support our must vulnerable citizens,” she said.

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