On Tuesday, July 22, the Connecticut Association for Human Services and members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus hosted a conversation with state advocates, policy makers, and parents to mark the release of the 25th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book. The Data Book, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, sheds light on multiple indicators of children’s well-being on both the national and state levels.
Child poverty up 50% since 1990
Although Connecticut ranked highly in both education and children’s health, speakers at the release event expressed frustration at the continued decline of children’s economic well-being. The percentage of Connecticut children in poverty has grown from 10% to 15% since 1990 (a 50% increase), and in some cities – including Hartford, the state’s capitol – that figure creeps up to include over half of children. Forty-one percent of children live in households with a high housing cost burden, and 28% do not have parents with secure employment. “Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country,” said Tamara Kramer, a policy analyst at the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “The resources are there,” she continued, but they are not being invested in our children’s futures. Wade Gibson, Director of the Fiscal Policy Center at Connecticut Voices for Children, echoed Kramer’s sentiment, pointing out that Connecticut has reduced the share of the budget that goes to children even as child poverty has risen. “Children are our future parents, workers, and voters,” he said. “We owe it to them” to give them strong starts.
An overarching theme of the launch event was the fact that statewide averages measuring children’s well-being often mask extreme inequality. Connecticut is one of the nation’s most segregated states, with high rates of residential segregation and concentrated pockets of poverty. When Orlando Rodriguez, the Legislative Analyst at the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, broke down data on child poverty, he revealed that although Connecticut’s statewide percentage of children living in high poverty areas is 9%, for white children it is 1% and for African American and Hispanic children it is a staggering 25%. Similarly, Connecticut is ranked 8th in children’s health and all four health indicators improved from previous years; however, Frances Padilla, President of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, told the audience that major racial and ethnic health disparities persist, largely because there is so little sustained political investment in closing these gaps. Policy makers must address inequities head-on to ensure that all of Connecticut’s children are getting the resources they need. To learn more about racial disparities in Connecticut, click here.
Next steps for policy makers
Many of the findings from the new KIDS COUNT Data Book are discouraging for child and family advocates, but they also reveal numerous opportunities for effective policy interventions. Each speaker identified policy decisions that could boost children’s well-being, from strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credits system to addressing mental health issues and trauma in families. Representative Edwin Vargas, Jr. (6th Assembly District – Hartford) argued that high quality early education programs are “essential” for closing the educational achievement gap and giving children from low-income backgrounds a path out of poverty. Here at All Our Kin, we couldn’t agree more. We hope that policy makers and advocates for children’s interests can use the KIDS COUNT data to develop lasting solutions and give young kids the opportunities they deserve.
The people behind the numbers
The big message of the morning was that the data from the new KIDS COUNT report is critical, but it’s not just about the numbers – it’s about the real people behind those numbers. The last speaker, a parent advocate from CT Parent Power, spoke persuasively about how easy it is to judge low-income families from afar rather than making a real effort to understand their individual circumstances. She peppered her presentation with stories from her own life about housing challenges, education, and family. “We need to bring more common folk to the table,” she said, in order to create meaningful change.