Louisville, KY – New data released today by the U.S Census Bureau reveals that 22.4 percent of Kentucky children lived in poverty in 2017, a drop from the 2016 estimate of 25.0 percent. Child poverty in Kentucky has finally returned to a level not seen since before the Great Recession.
“We must note the progress that has been made on reducing the rate of Kentucky children living in poverty, yet we can’t stop until each of the 222,906 children’s families earn enough to put food on the table and provide safe and stable housing. We know that children thrive when their parents can earn a living and meet the basic needs of their family, and we can celebrate the fact that more and more Kentucky parents are able to do so,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Due to historical and ongoing practices that have negatively impacted people of color in housing, employment, and financial services, Kentucky children of color continue to have higher poverty rates than their White peers, however the gap has shrunk. The Census Bureau estimates show that poverty rates among Black children fell from 45.1 percent in 2016 to 34.6 percent in 2017; among Hispanic children from 39.5 percent in 2016 to 32.8 percent in 2017; and, among Non-Hispanic White children from 21.7 percent in 2016 to 20.2 percent in 2017. Though the data show progress, Kentucky is ranked the 8th highest in child poverty among states and is ranked 5th highest among states for overall poverty.
“There are proven ways to fight poverty and to make an immediate difference for all families. And one thing leaders and advocates across the political spectrum agree on is that parents actively participating in the workforce is best for families, our communities, and the state economy,” said Dr. Brooks.
A strong Kentucky economy is dependent on a strong Kentucky workforce and parents contribute to a stronger workforce when they can go to work knowing they have safe, reliable, and affordable child care options for their children. A strengthened Child Care Assistance Program provides crucial support to families struggling to make ends meet and new federal funding approved earlier this year will strengthen Kentucky families’ access to child care.
A strong Kentucky workforce is also dependent on reforms within other sectors to do what’s most effective for kids and families. For example, reforms within the criminal justice system would minimize the impact of parental incarceration by ensuring parents who don’t pose a risk to public safety are able to be at home with family and continue working while awaiting trial. Ending the use of money bail, for example, would mean a person wouldn’t sit in jail simply because of the inability to pay and allow decisions to be focused on safety instead.
Other opportunities to help working Kentucky families abound. State leaders can curb predatory lending practices to prevent families living paycheck to paycheck from falling into the debt trap of payday lenders. Leaders can also take the next steps in tax reform by enacting a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit, which has a proven track record as a temporary support that shows gains to local economies, increased workforce participation of adults, and improved workforce preparedness of youth.
“Living in poverty literally permeates every aspect of a child’s life, including their health, academics, and workforce prospects. But poverty does not need to be endemic in the commonwealth, if leaders can come together on common ground, pragmatic solutions that can create brighter, more hopeful futures for Kentucky families, local communities, and the commonwealth,” said Dr. Brooks.
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at kyyouth.org.