Child poverty rates follow trend in Southeastern Kentucky
by Amelia Holliday
HAZARD — Eastern Kentucky may not have only unemployment rates to worry about, based on child poverty statistics released in December.
The Kentucky Youth Advocates released the 2012 County Data Book as a part of the KIDS COUNT project. The book lists the rate of child poverty by county based on 2006-2010 census data, with those counties in Southeastern Kentucky ranking among the highest.
Amy Swann, a policy analyst for the Kentucky Youth Advocates, said there are two main contributing factors for this: geography and economy.
“There’s a lot less economic opportunity in those areas,” Swann said, “and the layout of the land with the Appalachian Mountains and the hollers; it really limits access to services, sometimes even in just the next town over.”
The majority of southeastern counties saw rates exceeding 30 percent. The county with the highest amount of child poverty in the region, Owsley County, recorded 48.4 percent of its youth live in poverty, and the lowest rate was in Leslie County with 16.2 percent. Perry County was noted with a 42.1 percent child poverty rate.
According to the data book, a child lived in poverty in 2010 if their family’s annual income fell below $22,113.
Jason Bailey, research and policy director for the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), an organization that has partnered with the Kentucky Youth Advocates on various projects, said the economy is the main thing to which the poverty problem in Southeastern Kentucky should be attributed.
“I think fundamentally the challenge is a lack of adequate and diverse employment for the parents of these children,” Bailey said. “That’s what we have in Southeastern Kentucky, an economy that does not provide very many jobs and has not over the years diversified.”
Swann remarked on a correlation between current child poverty and unemployment rates in southeastern Kentucky that the Kentucky Youth Advocates has been researching, and said the coal industry is another major reason for both of these issues in this area of the state.
“We know that that’s a finite resource. The coal industry’s just not what it used to be, and a lot of people have been laid off,” Swann said.
Bailey said, “With nothing really taking its [coal’s] place, without an employment base … you won’t be able to make a dent in the problem.”
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