The childhood poverty rate in Kansas and across the nation has ticked down for several years, and the state’s rate remains lower than the average, according to data from a report publicized by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Kansas’ childhood poverty rate sits at 14 percent while 19 percent of children live in poverty across the nation. Kansas’ rate is down from a high of 19 percent from 2011 through 2013, following the Great Recession. The rate fluctuated between 12 and 16 percent between 2000 and 2009.
Brownback attributed the decline in poverty to his welfare reform bill, the HOPE Act, which increased work requirements for beneficiaries of public help. Advocates pointed to declining levels of childhood poverty across the nation.
“The welfare reform we’ve done in the state of Kansas has really produced some good numbers, been a national model,” Brownback said. “We get a lot of copying of it nationwide. The job growth that we’ve had in the state has been really good, and so we’re getting these child poverty numbers really dipping hard, which is great to see that taking place.”
Brownback has touted the HOPE Act as a means of moving people out of poverty and back to work.
“One of the key things, one of the five measurables that I ran on was reducing childhood poverty, and we’re now down from 19 percent to 14 percent,” Brownback said.
Child advocates gave more complex explanations for the drop in poverty.
Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance, said she was happy to see childhood poverty decline. She said the work requirements could be one factor in reducing child poverty, but work supports, like child care assistance and substance abuse treatment also play a pivotal role. She also pointed to the national trend and said the economic recovery from the Great Recession could explain some of the drop.
While child poverty is dropping, she said, the number of children in foster care has hit a record high.
“I think for a lot of people on the ground, it doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate.”
Michael Pahr, public policy director, for Kansas Appleseed said he didn’t see a connection between falling childhood poverty and the HOPE Act. He said the fall in poverty was great news and that there was still more work to be done.
John Wilson, a former democratic state lawmaker and vice president of advocacy for Kansas Action for Children, said the fall in poverty matched national trends. He said childhood poverty exposed inequities and that white children are less likely than children of color to live in poverty.
“We’re seeing this trend nationwide, so we need to drill down into the data and see whether some kids are being left behind,” Wilson said.