Kids in poverty rose sharply in Clarke County in five years, report says

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The number of children living in poverty in Georgia rose sharply from 2008 to 2013, according to data in the just-released “Kids Count Data Book,” tabulated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In Clarke County, the number of children in poverty went up even faster than the state as a whole, according to the document.

Clarke County’s child poverty rate in 2013 was 38.4 percent, up by 47 percent from five years earlier. In 2008, the Clarke County rate was 26.2 percent, according to the Casey Foundation’s numbers. Georgia’s poverty rate went up, too, from 20.2 percent to 26.7 percent, according to the report.

Georgia rose two spots in the latest “Kids Count” ranking of child and family well-being in the United States, as state scores rose in a number of indicators of child well-being.

The two-point jump is good, but Georgia has a long way to go, said Rebecca Rice, the Georgia Kids Count coordinator.

“On the one hand, it’s nice to see that it’s moving in the right direction. But 40th isn’t exactly something to celebrate about,” she said.

Like much of the nation, scores in education and health got better over the past five yeas, while numbers indicating family and community strength and economic well-being were more mixed, she said.

The annual report compares states on 16 measures, four each under economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Georgia and Clarke County improved on most measures, including such indicators as the number of children who lack health insurance and school achievement test scores.

But others worsened, including the percent of children living in poverty, which reached its lowest level in a decade in 2008 before spiking the next few years. The number of children living in single-parent households and children who live in high-poverty areas also went up — an indication poverty is becoming more concentrated, Rice said.

In Clarke County more than 54 percent of children lived in high-poverty areas in 2013, up from 33.4 percent five years earlier. In the state of Georgia, the percent of children in high-poverty areas also rose, from 11 percent to 17 percent.

Another indicator could spell some trouble for Clarke County in the future — a rise in low birth weight babies. Five years ago, Clarke County was below the state average, at 8.7 percent low birth weight babies vs. 9.6 for the state. In 2013, the two rates were the same, at 9.5, above the national average of 8.0 percent.

The growing numbers of low birth weight babies goes hand in hand with increasing poverty, Rice said; people with little money are less likely to get medical care.

“Poverty affects so many things—nutrition, education, health,” she said.

Poverty doesn’t affect kids in school directly—but can in many ways indirectly, through hunger, unmet transportation needs and a variety of other ways it plays out in people’s lives, said Dawn Meyers, social work director in the Clarke County School District.

“It’s the impact of poverty that affects achievement,” she said.

For that reason, rising achievement test scores in Clarke schools are a sign community efforts to help children and families cope with the effects of poverty may actually be working, said Tim Johnson, executive director of Athens’ Family Connection/Communities in Schools of Athens.

“We’ve been moving in the right direction in a lot of areas, mostly on things that you can do locally,” he said.

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Read the Georgia Family Connection Partnership release.

Georgia Family Connection is a statewide network with a Collaborative in all 159 counties.