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Report: More Texas Kids Growing up in Poor Neighborhoods

February 23, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - The number of Texas children living in communities with high concentrations of poverty increased by 43 percent during the last decade, according to a report released today.

Several factors are responsible, says Frances Deviney, senior research associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She cites the recession and a steadily rising rate of low-wage jobs in the Lone Star State, and adds that state-level budget cuts have stalled the progress of poverty-stricken Texas communities.

"The state has pushed more and more responsibility down to the local governments for supporting health care (and) education, and when you have a lot of concentrated poverty, local governments don't have the resources to be able to fill those holes."

She says she hopes lawmakers will rethink some recent policy priorities, such as cuts to local dropout prevention programs. High school graduation rates, she explains, are known predictors of upward mobility.

Texas is tied with Mississippi for the nation's highest percentage of low-wage jobs.

The new KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that 75 percent of Americans who live in communities with high poverty have at least one parent in the workforce. Deviney says this undercuts the common perception that hard work alone is enough to ensure financial security.

"When you don't have an education system that helps you get the skills that you need to get the good jobs, or to bring good jobs to your local area, the opportunities just aren't there."

The Snapshot, which crunches numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows Texas has the nation's fourth-highest percentage of children living in or around poverty. El Paso, Dallas and Houston are among the nation's worst 20 cities in terms of poverty ratio.

According to the report, children who aren't officially poor still experience economic and other disadvantages if they live in areas where poverty is concentrated. Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director of policy reform, says such children face challenges in almost every aspect of their lives...

"Harmful levels of stress. They're more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems. They have more trouble in school, have lower test scores."

The report makes several recommendations, including providing families in poor communities with more opportunities to develop employment and financial skills, as well as encouraging local institutions, such as universities and businesses, to invest in community-based revitalization and education initiatives.

The full report is online at AECF.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX