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Will Success Reducing Senior Poverty Work for WV Kids?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia - and the United States as a whole - have dramatically reduced poverty among seniors, and a growing movement says it's time for the state to do the same for children.

Census figures say the portion of West Virginia seniors living below the poverty line has fallen by about three-quarters during the past 40 years. Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said that shows poverty isn't inevitable - a lesson to be applied now to the state's poor children.

"There is a very powerful myth that this is 'just the way it is.' That is flatly not true," Smith said. "Not only is child poverty not inevitable, we know how to change it."

One-third of the state's young children live in poverty, according to a new report from the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The report estimates child poverty costs the state almost $4 billion a year because those children grow up to be more troubled, less healthy and less productive.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, described a few of the tools state lawmakers can use to reduce child poverty.

"They can implement a state Earned Income Tax Credit," he said. "They can invest in early childhood development. They can put more money into in-home family education. Over the last four decades, we've done a brilliant job of reducing poverty for seniors. Now, it's time to work on reducing poverty among children."

Every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood programs returns $7 to the state, according to the report.

We know what works, Smith said, and that people around the state are joining a movement to make it happen.

"What we need is political will," he said, "which means each and every one of us standing up and saying, 'This is what it's going to take and I'm going to do it.' It's not something where we're going around saying, 'You've got to do this,' or, 'You should do that.' "

Smith said anyone interested can find out more at WVHealthyKids.org. The full report is online at wvpolicy.org.


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