- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

Demographics, economic situations and achievement levels of children in the D.C. area are changing, according to a new study, with two out of five children having at least one parent not born in the United States, child poverty levels in some areas rivaling those of developing countries and more than 14,000 older teens not going to school or working.

Carol Thompson Cole, president and chief executive officer of the D.C.-based Venture Philanthropy Partners, which presented the study, said that the numbers paint a larger picture of the problems facing all children in the area. She hopes that nonprofit groups, businesses and other community organizations might be able to use them to start resolving some of those issues before they get worse.

“These are all of our children,” said Ms. Cole, whose agency invests in and supports nonprofits throughout the area. “If we are going to be a viable community going forward, we have to take care of all children.”

The study, called the Capital Kids report, pulled information from existing data to examine the demographics of children, how many were born to immigrants, the numbers of children in single-parent versus two-parent homes, the income levels of different families in the area, and school achievement based on standardized tests and enrollment levels. Ms. Cole said this is the first time that anyone has put so much diverse information together to paint a full picture of children in the region — both looking at different life, demographic and economic issues and pulling together all of the jurisdictions that make up the region.

As the needs of children and families increase, those who need help will go to agencies where they can find it. Recently, Ms. Cole has found those requests for help have crossed city, county and state lines and fueled the need for a set of numbers that looks at the wider area.

The impact of immigration on the area — which includes Montgomery, Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington, Prince George’s and Loudoun counties, as well as the District and Alexandria — was apparent. Half of all children in Montgomery and Fairfax counties have at least one parent who was not born in the United States — though Ms. Cole said most of these children are U.S. citizens themselves. While those two counties have rapidly growing immigrant populations, almost every place in the region saw the number of children born to at least one immigrant increase. In Alexandria, 44 percent of children fit into this category, while more than a third of children in Prince William, Arlington, Prince George’s and Loudoun counties do. The District has the smallest percentage of children in this situation, with just one in five having a parent born outside the United States.

Elise Webb, a program initiative coordinator from D.C.-based immigration services agency Ayuda, said that the group has seen more clients and more young people in recent years. The organization, which recently moved from Adams Morgan to an office close to the Maryland state line in Takoma Park, has seen an influx of clients from the entire area — especially more from Montgomery County.

“They seem to have no trouble finding us,” she said.

With more children being born to immigrant parents, more children come to school with a limited knowledge of English. According to the study, nearly a quarter of the students in Arlington County need help with English. About one in five students in both Alexandria and Fairfax County are in that classification.

The study also showed the stark levels of poverty for many children in the region. More than 30 percent of the children in the District are poor, the study says, citing figures that show the child poverty rate in the nation’s capital is greater than the rate in Mexico. Children are less likely to be living in poverty in the suburbs, with 14 percent of the rest of the area’s children living under the poverty line, but Ms. Cole said those numbers are deceptive and poverty is still sharply increasing. In five years, child poverty doubled — from 4.1 percent to 9.7 percent — in Montgomery County. In Alexandria, it quadrupled — from 3.4 percent to 13.7 percent.

The study gives no reasons for the high poverty levels, but zeros in on percentages of single mothers, as well as their median income levels. Using figures from 2009, the study found that more than half of all children born in the District have a single mother, and 42 percent of all children in the District live in single-mother households.

Many single parents cannot earn enough money to meet their children’s basic needs, the study says. The study pegs the median income for single people in the District at just under $23,000 — only about a quarter of the $89,676 needed to meet basic needs of a mother and two children living there.

The study also looked at the numbers of young people not enrolled in school, as well as those who are doing nothing. About 14,000 people between the ages of 16 and 19 fit into this category. Ms. Cole predicted that they represent a potential loss of $13 billion — both in lost income that isn’t taxed and in social services needs — and that it shows the community at large needs to connect these young people to job training.

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