Friday, November 27, 2009

Children living in poverty increases in Middle TN

Ability to learn, lifetime health can be affected By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • November 27, 2009 While new U.S. Census Bureau figures show poverty has dropped in most of Middle Tennessee between 2007 and 2008, the area's children remain disproportionately affected. Poverty for the population overall increased in Davidson and Wilson counties during the period but declined in nearby Rutherford, Sumner and Williamson counties. But children living in almost every part of the region were more likely than other age groups — including senior citizens — to live in poverty. In Davidson County, poverty rose from 15.2 percent of residents in 2007 to 16.9 percent last year. The same rate for children grew from 24.2 to 25.7 percent. "When you see these kinds of gaps in poverty, this many children living in poverty compared to the rest of the population, it is directly related to public policy choices being made in this state," said Gordon Bonnyman, executive director of the Nashville-based Tennessee Justice Center. In the 1970s, the federal government assumed the responsibility of providing basic needs of disabled individuals and senior citizens through Social Security payments, Bonnyman said. The welfare of children has generally been left to the states, he said. The problem isn't necessarily parents' employment. A full 49 percent of the parents of children living in poverty or near it across the United States are employed part or full time. And in Tennessee, 56 percent of children living in poverty or near it have parents who are employed, but they don't earn enough to exceed federal poverty guidelines. Poverty can affect children's ability to learn and lifetime health, which can hamper their educational attainment level, limit their income and perpetuate the cycle of poverty, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University. Janice L. Cooper, the center's interim director, said the Census numbers show just how far the nation has to go to meet the needs of its youngest citizens. "This kind of widespread economic hardship impact child and adolescent development, health and ultimately has the potential to hinder our nation's competitiveness in the global economy," she said in a statement. Nationwide, poverty rose from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent in 2008, its highest level in more than a decade. Federal poverty measures the share of residents who earn less that the census bureau's poverty threshold . Those figures vary based on household size and composition. For example, a family of two adults under age 65 and two children is living in poverty if it collectively earns less than $21,834. Contact Janell Ross at 615-726-5982 or

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