A new national ranking showing that Wichita had the fourth-highest increase in child poverty demands the community’s focus and action. Voters also should hold candidates and elected officials accountable for how their decisions would improve or worsen the trend.
By analyzing the U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released 2011 American Community Survey data, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center found that 44 of the 50 largest U.S. cities had seen child-poverty rates increase between 2005 and 2011 – not surprising given the historic downturn’s depth and length. The national percentage of children in poverty rose from 19 to 23 percent during those years, or by 3 million children.
“These numbers underscore that millions of children are living in families who are barely getting by economically, which can affect their well-being and their ability to succeed as adults,” said Laura Speer, director of policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation.
And there was Wichita, tied with Indianapolis for fourth place among cities for their 50 percent rate of increase in child poverty during those six years.
Wichita still compares favorably with many other cities for its percentage of kids in poverty, defined by the federal government for 2011 as an income of about $23,000 for a family of four. Wichita’s 27 percent rate last year meant that 36 others among the nation’s 50 biggest cities had higher percentages of poor kids, including Kansas City, Mo., and Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Dallas and Houston were in the top 10.
But only Las Vegas (81 percent), Jacksonville, Fla. (63 percent), and Arlington, Texas (61 percent), saw their kids tumble into poverty at higher rates than Wichita between 2005 and 2011.
The sharp statistical turn for the worse of the city’s children is no doubt linked in part to the number of aviation jobs lost in the past years. It also isn’t news to anyone working for local schools, safety-net clinics, food banks or other agencies. They see the faces daily behind the nearly three-quarters of USD 259’s 50,000 students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches (up from a little more than half the enrollment in 2006), and the increasing demand for social services citywide.
But the top-five ranking should underscore the need for the community to help the United Way of the Plains meet its fall campaign goal of $15.6 million, as it informs the work of local governments and business leaders to stoke the economy. How Wichita’s kids are faring also should guide members of the area legislative delegation, including incoming conservatives revved up and ready to help Gov. Sam Brownback make further cuts in taxes and state spending for schools and otherwise.
The Kids Count number crunching is more depressing confirmation of how the Great Recession has singled out Wichita. It’s also an instructive reminder that while many Wichitans are hunkering down, just trying to weather this lousy economy, others are growing up in the midst of it – and having their futures put at risk by it.