‘Kids Count’ Data in

Published 12:07 pm Monday, October 3, 2011

Poverty in Escambia County is not news — but the extent of the problems it causes may be frightening.

Last week, VOICES for Alabama’s Children released the 2011 Alabama Kids Count Data Book. The state publication, which examines various measures of child well being in Alabama’s 67 counties, follows the release of the national data book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in August. The national data book compares the well being of children in each of the 50 states. Alabama ranks 48th in that report.

Among the data figures released, Escambia County was placed 47th among Alabama counties in relation to the well being of children. Part of the placement of the county is based on the poverty level seen by families in the county.

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Nearly 30 percent of the children in Escambia County are living in poverty according to figures released in the data book.

Ruth Harrell, with Be Our Voice in Escambia County, said the poverty figures released in the data book don’t adequately reflect the severity of the problem children face in this county.

“Poverty is a really problem in our county — especially with the loss of jobs and the economic downturn we’ve seen for the last three or four years,” Harrell said. “That means that when a breadwinner loses a job, it impacts our children in so many ways.”

Harrell said the poverty level seen by families stunts their ability to provide healthy choices in food as well as the inability, in some cases, to provide adequate health care since most do not have health insurance.

“In 2010, 53 percent of children born in Escambia County were born on Medicaid,” Harrell said. “We have families that are hurting and have lost jobs. Fortunately, in Alabama, the families who can’t afford healthcare for their children will most likely qualify for health benefits. Many children can be covered by AllKids insurance or Medicaid. That may sound bad, but there is an upside to that. Even though they are living in poverty, they do have access to healthcare services. We are fortunate in Alabama to have services that will make it possible for virtually every child to be covered by health insurance.”

When it comes to healthy meals, Harrell said most families rely on school-provided meals to help out with nutrition needs.

“When you have families in poverty, you have children in poverty,” Harrell said. “These figures mean that three out of every 10 children are living in poverty in our county. If you go to the schools and ask, you may be surprised at how what percentage of the student population at that school show up to get breakfast each day. I know it must be a high percentage.”

Harrell said the ravages of poverty on entire families can linger from loss or lack of education as well as other typical adversities related to being poor.

“As a county, it is time to come together and look at what we can do,” Harrell said. “When you have that many children in poverty, it is very unlikely that they will finish high school. Many won’t even have the opportunity at a higher education if they do finish high school. Poverty can have long-lasting, far-reaching effects.”

As the number of educated residents dwindles, Harrell said the community, as a whole will suffer.

“Because education won’t be possible for many, that will mean that our W\workforce will diminish in the next 20 years,” Harrell said. “A lot of people already have to leave the county to support their families. In the future, opportunities won’t be as great as they will for the percentage of children who aren’t faced with the barriers children in poverty face.”

Harrell said it is up to communities to lighten the burden as much as possible for the families who suffer along or below the poverty line.

“Having this issue of poverty at this level is not acceptable,” Harrell said. “We must all pool our resources in order to help with this problem. Members of the faith, business, economic and media community have to do something about this. There are people who are already working to make things better. But, the whole community must work to end these problems now.”

To learn more about the Alabama KidsCount data, visit www.aecf.org/ majorinitiative/KIDSCOUNT.