Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Unwed births leading cause of poverty, panel told

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback’s newly formed task force on child poverty was told Monday that the increase in “nonmarital births” was a leading cause of child poverty.

Ron Haskins, a senior fellow with The Brookings Institution, said that from a child’s perspective, “They need a mom, they need a dad, they need consistency … if that occurs it has major impacts on development.”

Haskins’ comments were made during the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Reducing Childhood Poverty. Brownback appointed the group earlier this month.

In Kansas, 18.1 percent of children live in poverty, which represents a 53 percent increase from 1970. A family of four earning less than $23,050 is considered to be living under the poverty level.

Haskins said “Nonmarital births are really a major part of the problem of poverty in the United States.”

He said births to unmarried women nationwide have increased from around 30 percent in 1993 to 40 percent now. The poverty rate for children in female-headed households is 41 percent, while it is about 9 percent for married couples, he said.

“We are doing more of the thing that virtually guarantees poverty,” he said. “Unless we attack it, we are not going to get at the heart of the problem.”

He said if people will graduate from high school, work full time and wait until they are married to have children, they increase their chances dramatically of avoiding poverty. “Education, family composition and work are always going to be key,” he said.

“It is a very challenging issue,” said Kansas Department of Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who is serving as co-chair of the task force.

Earlier, Page Walley, a director with Casey Family Programs, urged task force members to work on reducing the number of children removed from their parents and put in foster homes.

“Foster care was never intended to be a permanent solution,” he said.