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More Arizona Kids Growing up in Poor Neighborhoods

February 23, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. - A new KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released today shows the number of children living in high-poverty communities has increased by 25 percent over the last decade. Arizona is ranked fifth-highest for kids living in areas of concentrated poverty.

Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform for the Casey Foundation, says the report also shows that even if a family is not officially "in poverty," according to federal standards, it still harms children when a lot of other people in the neighborhood are under that line.

"Living in an area of concentrated poverty limits the opportunities families have available to get a better job to make sure the health and the welfare of their children is taken care of."

Speer notes that about 75 percent of children living in an area of concentrated poverty have at least one parent working. An area is considered high-poverty if 30 percent or more of its residents are below the poverty line.

Joshua Oehler, a research associate with Children's Action Alliance, says the limited job opportunities found in high-poverty areas also limit the quality of available health care for families.

"Even the jobs that are there, they don't pay very well. A lot of those jobs don't have health care benefits, so that is all out-of-pocket cost."

The report found high-poverty neighborhoods in urban Tucson, Mesa and especially the Sky Harbor area of Phoenix. But Oehler says minority children in rural areas - such as reservations - are affected, too.

"The county with the highest percentage of children living in concentrated poverty is Apache, with 69 percent of their children living in areas of high poverty."

Oehler says Arizona's First Things First child development program is making a positive difference, but cuts to education and the AHCCCS (Access) health care program are hurting efforts to reduce poverty in the state.

The Casey Foundation report calls for transforming disadvantaged communities and makes several recommendations that can be tailored to each area. Speer says the idea is to make neighborhoods better places to raise children.

"We know it's important to support families in these communities by giving them access to financial coaching, as well as helping them gain employment skills."

African-American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely to live in high-poverty communities than their white counterparts, according to the report, and no matter what their race or ethnicity, children in the South and Southwest are more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty.

The full report is available at AECF.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ