Gila County Suffers High Child Poverty Rate, Low Insurance

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Arizona suffers from one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, with Gila County remaining especially high, according to an annual survey released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Arizona ranked 37th among all 50 states for child poverty rates in 2009, according to the KIDS Count report, with 22 percent of all children living in poverty even before the economic crash.

The figures were based on numbers collected just before the recession hit, which means the state has likely fallen even further since the recession hit especially hard here, spurring billions in cuts in safety net programs for the poor like supplemental child care, extended unemployment and medical coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

The KIDS Count report concluded that despite small improvements in the teen birthrate and high school graduation rates, Arizona continues to rank in the bottom 5 percent nationally on most indicators of child welfare.

Only a handful of states had higher child poverty rates, with Louisiana and Arkansas tied for last at 25 percent — if you don’t count Puerto Rico’s 56 percent. New Hampshire had the lowest rate of child poverty at 9 percent.

“For the sake of our future prosperity as well as our cherished values of equal opportunity, we simply can’t afford to waste a chance for every child growing up in Arizona to be healthy and well-educated,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The researchers concluded that the state had undoubtedly sunk even further in the ratings in the past two years, due to the impact of the recession — which hit especially hard in this once-booming state. For instance, even in 2009, 8 percent of Arizona children lived in families who lost their homes to foreclosure — twice the national rate. Currently, about one-third of the homes on the market in Arizona are in foreclosure.

The study showed dramatic difference in child poverty rates within Arizona.

Gila County fared poorly on most measures, which was common with most of the other rural areas of the state.

Statewide, 22 percent of children live in poverty, compared to 18 percent nationwide.

In Gila County, a dismaying 27 percent of children live in poverty. However, that high rate includes the San Carlos Apache Reservation and mostly Hispanic areas of Globe, which all have extremely high child poverty rates. In northern Gila County, the child poverty rate stands at about 16 percent, a little bit below the national average.

Nearly 60 percent of the children attending the Payson Unified School District now qualify for free and reduced school lunches, based on the income levels of their families. That percentage stood at closer to 40 percent before the recession.

The study noted that 15 percent of Arizona children had no medical insurance, one of the highest rates in the country. Only New Mexico and Nevada at 16 percent and Texas at 19 percent had a higher share of their children without medical insurance. Moreover, about 30 percent of Gila County residents rely on AHCCCS for their medical coverage, which mostly covers low-income mothers and children and impoverished nursing home residents.

Some measures of child welfare and poverty had been increasing before the recession hit home.

For instance, women without a high school education accounted for 34 percent of the births in Gila County in 2000, but just 27 percent of the total in 2009. Studies show that a mother’s educational level remains one of the biggest factors in whether children will grow up in poverty and suffer from a wide range of social problems.

“The research tells us that children who grow up in low-income families are less likely to successfully navigate life’s challenges and achieve future success,” said Patrick McCarthy, president of the Casey Foundation.

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