VOL. 126 | NO. 234 | Thursday, December 01, 2011
Juvenile Poverty's Bite is Deep in Tennessee
NASHVILLE (AP) – U.S. Census figures bear out the anecdotal evidence of more children in poverty that Tennessee schools have been seeing.
The percentage of children from economically impoverished families rose 1.8 percent in Tennessee from 2009 to 2010 – two-tenths of a percentage point more than the national average increase.
That means an estimated 27,215 more children in the state statistically slid into poverty last year.
At the Ochs (OX') Center for Metropolitan Studies in Chattanooga, interim CEO Rick Mathis told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the South is caught between decreases in median income and higher rates of poverty.
"In this region, the comparatively high increase in the number of school-age children in poverty within Hamilton, Bradley and Catoosa (Ga.) counties is particularly troubling," Mathis said.
In Nashville, where Joy Pillow-Jones directs the student resource center at public Maplewood High School, there is ample evidence of hard times, including the need for the school cafeteria to serve a Thanksgiving Day meal.
"High school is difficult enough anyway, without having to worry about how you're going to eat or where you're going to sleep tonight," Pillow-Jones told The Tennessean. "It's as bad as I've ever seen it."
Census figures show that one in five children live in poverty nationally. The picture in Tennessee is more grim – one child in four.
The Census determines poverty by considering how many people live in a family and comparing the family's before-tax income with set dollar thresholds. If the family's or individual's dollar income is less than the applicable threshold, the family or person is considered to be living in poverty. The thresholds take into account annual changes in the cost of living, based on the Consumer Price Index.
The latest American Community Survey by the Census Bureau was released this month and shows more than 1 million additional children nationwide were living in poverty in 2010, compared with 2009.
The study notes that poverty is a critical indicator of the well-being of the children of the U.S. The study points out that economically impoverished children, especially young children, are at higher risk of behavioral problems, likely to complete fewer years of school and experience more years of unemployment as adults.
The Samaritan Center in Chattanooga serves residents throughout Hamilton County. Sharon Smith-Hensley, who directs social services at the center, says more people are asking for help.
"We're getting the newly marginalized client," Smith-Hensley said. "They've never been in this situation before."
Julie Harrison supervises federal programs for the Wilson County schools, just east of Nashville. She said an estimated 300 families in the district are homeless.
"You don't realize what a huge need there is. . You can't sit down and learn if you're hungry," Harrison said.
In addition to breakfasts and lunches to more students, many schools are providing clothing and, in some cases, take-home nonperishable food for weekend consumption.
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