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More Tennessee Kids Growing up in Poor Neighborhoods

February 23, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A report released today shows a dramatic increase in the number of children living in poverty across Tennessee.

The new KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation reveals a 91 percent increase in the number of children living in high-poverty communities during the past 10 years.

Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says the increase is related to high unemployment across the state, especially in the urban and rural areas as well as the Cumberland Plateau and Appalachia in East Tennessee. She says the increase is substantial, and that more effort will be needed by state officials.

"We know in Tennessee we have to do a better job of supporting families in their communities in helping them be successful so their children have the services and support, the interventions they need to be able to succeed in school to become good parents and productive employees in the future. Investing in children is really important for the future prosperity of Tennessee."

One in every four children in Tennessee lives in poverty, O'Neal says, and one in eight lives in a community where more than 30 percent of the children live in poverty. She adds that more than half the children in Hancock and Grundy counties live in neighborhoods with incomes below the poverty level.

Tennessee has done a pretty good job supporting families across the state during these tough economic times, O'Neal says, but some valuable programs are threatened.

"Programs like family resource centers in the schools that help families and children be able to succeed in school. Programs that provide home visitation for young, vulnerable families to help them get off to a good start and to avoid some kinds of negative outcomes like child abuse and other problems that really have an adverse impact on children for the long term."

The Snapshot suggests strategies for reversing the trend of concentrated poverty by promoting federal and state policies which advance proven and promising practices in the areas of work support, asset building and employment. Strategies include classes on financial management, home ownership and establishing matching savings accounts which can be used to pay for tuition and other educational costs.

Early-childhood education can contribute to the long-term solution to entrenched poverty, O'Neal adds. Combined with workforce development and asset-building for parents, she says, it can improve children's lives in the present as well as the future.

The full report is online at AECF.org.

Bo Bradshaw, Public News Service - TN