Among the tens of thousands of statistics in a newly released report on child welfare, the most frightening is this: Twenty-two percent of Indiana children live in poverty, and the percentage has increased every year since 2007.
While the figure now matches the percentage for all U.S. children, in Indiana it’s growing at a faster rate.
We’ve seen a significant increase in child poverty since the year 2000, said Bill Stan- czykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. We used to be about half the national rate. Now we’re even with the national rate.
The annual Kids Count survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at 16 indicators of child well-being in the areas of health, family and community, education, and economic well-being. Indiana has had its best marks in the latter category over the survey’s history but has fallen in recent years from the 14th best state for economic well-being to the 24th. It’s an unwelcome distinction, suggesting any economic success the state has had versus its neighbors has come at the expense of its youngest residents.
Increasing child poverty also threatens Indiana’s growth in years to come. While it’s encouraging to see some improving numbers in the survey, such as an increase in the high school graduation rate from 76 percent to 84 percent, indicators with strong links to economic status show the inevitable effects. The child abuse and neglect rate grew from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 14.5 percent in 2010.
The costs associated with child poverty are steep. They can include higher health care costs resulting from poor nutrition and lack of preventive care. They can mean additional education costs as early-childhood learning opportunities are lost and the need for remediation and special education grows. Higher abuse and neglect rates are linked to poverty and carry with them increased law enforcement, judicial and welfare costs. Poverty can limit education and job-training opportunities, as well as threaten success if those opportunities are realized. And the effect on the children themselves? Incalculable.
The data, based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, are even more disappointing in some areas of the state. More than 29 percent of children in Adams County lived in poverty in 2010; more than 26 percent in both LaGrange and Elkhart counties. Marion County had the highest rate at 30.7 percent.
The figures speak poorly of how we’ve minded our youngest in the worst economic period in most Hoosiers’ memory. No election-year platform is complete without a plan for bringing the fortunes of Indiana children along with everyone else.