As Congress marks the sixth anniversary of welfare reform this week, and workers look forward to a Labor Day break, a startling number of Washington families are working but still living in poverty.
Moving parents off welfare and into the workplace has not ensured economic success for all, according to research released today which found that 73 percent of Washington families living in poverty are headed by working adults.
According to the 2002 The State of Washington’s Children report, released today by the University of Washington, a quarter million Washington children (17 percent) were living below the official poverty level in late 2002.
Another quarter million children were above the poverty level, but with inadequate income. That adds up to about half a million children — approximately one in three — whose families are losing the battle to make ends meet.
“Climbing out of poverty is a process, and joining the workforce is just the first step,” said Sheri L. Hill, assistant director of the Washington Kids Count project.
“Changes in welfare law have moved parents into the workforce, but stranded them without support for child care, health insurance and transportation,” she added. “These supports are essential to improve the lives of the children living in these families and to break the cycle of poverty. Given the current economic climate of job losses and limited resources, helping low-income working families is the single most important thing we can do for the health and well being of our state’s children.”
Extensive research has shown that poverty adversely affects almost every aspect of a child’s life. Children in poverty are at greater risk for inadequate prenatal care, low birth weight, low academic achievement, risky behavior and emotional problems, Hill said. For adults in low-income working families, job, transportation, housing and child care limitations make it difficult to get ahead or even survive day-to-day.
Child advocates say that investing state resources in low-income families now pays off later. For instance, every dollar spent on pregnant women in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program produces $1.92 to $4.21 in Medicaid savings by reducing premature and low birthweight babies. Early childhood education programs can produce benefits up to four times the program cost when estimates include the later costs of grade retention, special education, criminal activity and reduced adult incomes. On purely economic grounds, focusing on children in low-income families is especially important when resources are scarce.
“The state’s budget deficit does not bode well for Washington’s children,” said Linda Stone, interim executive director of the Children’s Alliance. “Our budget crisis should not force children’s programs onto the chopping block We need to find the resources to pay for what our kids need.
Families need health care, food assistance, child care and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) now more than ever, Stone said, and educational opportunities must be made available to low-income parents so they can find meaningful work that pays a living wage.
Health care for children, programs that keep children out of the foster care system and child care services will be under fire this legislative session. The Children’s Alliance said it will work to protect existing programs for children in the upcoming session and highlight unmet needs.
Below are key findings from the report.
– More 10th grade students met basic math standards on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) in 2001 than in 2000.
– Deaths from medical conditions for all children and suicides for 10- to 19-year-olds decreased from 1999 to 2000.
– During the 1990s, the juvenile arrest rate dropped by 20 percent from 87 arrests per 1,000 17-year-olds to 68.9 arrests. Between 1996 and 2000, the arrest rate for African American youth decreased by more than 30 percent from 229.5 arrests per 1,000 youth to 158.9.
– The child poverty rate outside the Puget Sound region (King, Snohomish and Pierce counties) is more than 30 percent higher than the poverty rate inside the metro area. Resources such as child care and health care tend to be concentrated within metropolitan areas and are not as accessible to rural residents.
–In 2000, 31.3 percent of all births (26,000) were paid for by Medicaid. Between 2001 and 2002, food stamp use increased by 16 percent, and food bank visits were up by 8 percent in Washington.
– Fewer than 1 in 7 Hispanic and Native American adults living with children have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to more than 1 in 3 whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders. Higher education is linked to earning a living wage.
For more information or a copy of the report, contact Hill at (206) 616-1506, or Laura Strickler of the Children’s Alliance at (206) 324-0340 x13. Washington Kids Count is part of the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs. The project office phone number is (206) 685-7613 and Web site is www.hspc.org.