- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Poverty remains a serious and growing problem among North Carolina children and youth nationwide, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count survey.

“The gulf continues to widen between children growing up in strong, economically secure families that are embedded in thriving communities and children who are not,” according to the survey’s conclusion. “And, while African-American and Latino children continue to fall disproportionately into the latter group, large numbers of children of all racial and ethnic groups are facing economic conditions that can impede long-term success.”

Between 2008 and 2013, North Carolinian children in poverty rose from 18 percent to 22 percent, and 31 percent of state children don’t have parents that have secure employment, as opposed to 27 percent in 2008.

“The gap between states with the best and worst child well-being is stark — and North Carolina sits on the wrong side of that divide,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child, in a statement. “In order for our children to thrive and our state to excel now and in the future, North Carolina needs to work on the fundamentals of healthy child development: support strong and stable families, build safe and nurturing communities and promote high-quality schools.”

North Carolina graded out as the 35th-best state overall. Among bordering states, Virginia came in at 14, while Tennessee was at 36, Georgia 40th and South Carolina 42nd. Northeastern and Upper Midwestern states scored best, while Southeastern and Southwestern states performed the worst.

And the same economic trends continued on the county level. Between 2008 and 2012, Lenoir County’s level of children in poverty rose from 29.5 percent to 36.6 percent, Greene County’s rate rose from 27.7 percent to 35.9 percent and Jones County’s rate went from 27 percent to 33.2 percent.

“I would say that the number of children in poverty is increasing, and I attribute that to several things,” said Susan Moore, director of the Lenoir County Department of Social Services. “Although the economy is recovering, a lot of the jobs that are recovering are high-skill jobs. And, a larger group of parents don’t qualify for those high-skill jobs.

“We don’t have a large workforce that can move right into them. So, the people who lost work during this last recession, in ‘08, a lot of them have moved into temporary work — some of them into multiple temporary jobs.”

The good news is more state children are proficient in reading by fourth grade and in math by eighth grade, and more students are graduating high school on time. Also, there are fewer low-birthweight babies, fewer children without health insurance, fewer child and teen deaths per capita and fewer teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.

“We have more adults without health insurance in the county, because North Carolina opted not to expand Medicaid,” Moore said. “But, they did expand services to children. So, we have a growing population of children who are receiving their health insurance through our agency.”

She added, “One of the good things that was reported last week was the out-of-wedlock birthrate for teens has significantly dropped. And that’s attributed to abstinence programs and educational programs in the schools.”

Wes Wolfe can be reached at 252-559-1075 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @WolfeReports.

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(c)2015 The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.)

Visit The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.) at www.kinston.com

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