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Report: OR Kids in Poor Neighborhoods Tripled in Last Decade

February 23, 2012

SALEM, Ore. - An estimated 42,000 children in Oregon are living in areas where at least 30 percent of their neighbors are poor, which affects them negatively in a variety of ways, according to a report released today.

The number of Oregon children growing up in areas of concentrated poverty has tripled since 2000, according to the KIDS COUNT "Data Snapshot" report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Even being one of the more stable families in an impoverished neighborhood still holds a family back, says Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for policy reform.

"It really gets at this double-jeopardy in terms of these children who are living in high-poverty communities that there actually is an effect that the communities have, regardless of their own family's income."

Children living in areas of concentrated poverty have harmful stress levels, the report says, and are more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems and trouble in school.

Stacy Michaelson, a Children First for Oregon policy associate, says it's all part of a much bigger problem - with 374,000 children in Oregon who are living in low-income households, a number which has been creeping up for a decade and isn't confined to high-poverty areas.

"We're a small state; that's a large portion of folks. Things are green and pretty in the Northwest, but that doesn't mean our kids aren't experiencing poverty. I think because it's not visualized in the same way as it is in a lot of other areas, it's sort of easy to not realize the magnitude of the problem."

Michaelson, who has been sitting in on this week's budget discussions at the Legislature, says she hoped for more dialogue about how and when to deploy social services, not just whether to fund or cut them. She calls it a "return on investment conversation."

"Where we really look at, at what point we begin investing dollars in a family - and are we waiting until a family gets to a point where they're in a really dire position? Or are we prioritizing programs that prevent families from getting to that level of poverty in the first place?"

Children First for Oregon advocates maintaining funding for programs such as Employment-Related Day Care, which helps lower-income families pay for child care so parents can hold jobs. The Casey Foundation report says three out of four children living in poverty have at least one parent in the full-time workforce.

The full report is online at AECF.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR