Advocates: Vermont's high ranking in child welfare survey masks reality
MONTPELIER -- Vermont's high ranking for child well-being hides the fact that in several key areas children have still not recovered from the recession, advocates said Tuesday after a national research group released a study on child welfare.
At the same time, state policies helped Vermont keep its rank as second overall for the second year in a row, and helped it rank fourth-lowest in the nation for the percentage of children living in poverty, according to the 2014 Kids Count survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Three key factors suggest the Great Recession's effects have not lifted from the Green Mountain State, according to Sarah Teel, a research assistant at Voices for Vermont's Children, a child welfare advocacy group.
Many children still live in impoverished families, have parents without secure employment and live in families where housing is still very difficult to afford.
The number of children living in poverty has increased in the past five years from 12 percent to 15 percent, the data show. A family of four that makes less than $23,283 per year is considered to be in poverty.
A much larger number of Vermont children - 38 percent or 46,000 - live below 200 percent of the poverty level, that is a family of four that makes $46,566 or less.
The percentage of children whose parents don't have a regular, full-time job remained steady during and after the recession at 28 percent.
The number of children living in low-income households with a high housing cost burden is steady since 2008 at 67 percent, or 31,000 children.
Low-income children are disproportionately represented in this category, because the data show that only 36 percent of children in non-low-income households have a high housing cost burden.
The number of students receiving food stamps has also risen, from 14 percent in 2005-2007 to 24 percent in 2009-2011. They qualify if their family income is up to 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold.
The number of students enrolled in the free and reduced-price school meals program grew to 40.7 percent from 29.6 percent in 2008.
The number of children in Vermont living in households that were "food insecure" at some point during the year has risen since 2007 from 18 percent to 22 percent in 2010-2012, according to the most recent data available.
The median family income among households with children is $63,400 in Vermont. It rose for the first time in 2012 after staying level since 2008.
The report also includes some good news about the welfare of Vermont children.
The number of children with at least one unemployed parent dropped, from 5 percent in 2008 to 4 percent in 2012.
Teel said good state policies including the state child health insurance program, Dr. Dynasaur, contribute to Vermont's high ranking.
In 2012, 97 percent of kids in Vermont had health insurance, according to Voices for Vermont's Children, which also gathers state data about child well-being.
In 2010-2012, 51 percent of Vermont 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds did not attend preschool, slightly higher than the national average of 53 percent.
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