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March 19, 2009

Recession will push nearly 40,000 more Washington State children into poverty




The recession will likely send nearly 40,000 more Washington State children into poverty and cost the economy billions of dollars, according to a forthcoming report from Washington Kids Count.

The increase of children in poverty, says the report, can be mitigated by implementing state policies that increase family economic security and sustaining current government assistance programs for children.

“When 2008 data become available, we expect to see an escalation of poverty rates. We also expect sharp increases in 2009 and 2010,” said Lori Pfingst, lead author of the report and assistant director of Washington Kids Count, a research group at the University of Washington.

Other findings from the report, “The State of Washington’s Children”:

• The rise would occur if unemployment reached 9 percent. February unemployment was 8.4 percent. Children of color, rural children and those from immigrant families would be disproportionately affected. In Washington State, 226,000 children, or 16 percent of the population, live in families with incomes below the federal poverty line, which was $21,200 for a family of four in 2008.

• Child poverty costs Washington’s economy $8.7 billion annually. Poverty often means lower earning power when the children reach adulthood, higher health expenditures and increased crime.

• The majority of poor parents are working but cannot meet their families’ basic needs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of Washington families living in poverty have a head of household employed at least part time. Unfortunately, low-wage work is not enough for families to meet basic needs. For example, a single parent with two children living in Seattle and working full time at $10 per hour would earn just half of what it takes to meet the family’s basic needs.

The report suggests measures that can mitigate poverty in Washington, including:

• Improve work support policies for low-income families. More poor families can become economically secure if disincentives are addressed. For example, as income increases by even a small amount, workers may see steep reductions in work support benefits or sudden disqualifications from assistance programs. These reductions may discourage parents from advancing in the labor market. They may forgo a raise or promotion to keep a child-care subsidy or food stamps. These disincentives can be eliminated by raising eligibility for work support programs, and more gradually phasing out benefits as income increases.

• Sustain critical benefits to children. In recent years, Washington State has committed to health care coverage, high-quality early learning, paid family leave and increased eligibility for food stamps. Maintaining these programs and ensuring that all eligible families have access to them will help families meet their children’s basic needs.

All this is necessary, says the report, if Washington State is to have a healthy, well-educated workforce.

“The bottom line is that children need economically secure families to thrive,” Pfingst said. “If we fail to invest in children and families, we will likely see more poor health, lower educational achievement and increased family instability. Our whole society loses when children are denied the opportunity to live up to their full potential.”


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For a copy of the report, go to http://www.hspc.org/swc_2009_press.aspx .