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Number Of Hartford Area People Living In Poverty Increases

MARK SPENCER

September 30, 2009

The poverty rate, particularly for children, increased faster in Connecticut than in any other state in 2008, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The grim numbers prompted child advocates to call for more aggressive action by the state to help poor families. The statistics also heightened concern about the future because they portray only the leading edge of the recession, which grew more severe early this year.

"We're seeing the effect of the first half of the recession, and it's quite dramatic," said Joachim Hero, a research associate with Connecticut Voices for Children who analyzed the numbers.

While Connecticut's poverty rate is still well below the national average, the number of state residents living in poverty increased from 7.9 percent in 2007 to 9.3 percent in 2008. Nationally, the poverty rate jumped to 13.2 percent, an 11-year high.

The number of children under 18 below the poverty level increased from 11.1 percent to 12.5 percent during the same period. The national rate in 2008 was 18.2 percent.

It was sobering news for a state that in 2004 set a goal of cutting child poverty in half by 2014. The rate at the time was 10.8 percent, and Hero said little progress was made on the initiative even before the onset of recession.

"We're moving further and further away from our goal," he said.

The picture is even worse for the state's urban centers.

The number of individuals in the Hartford metropolitan area living in poverty increased from 31.2 percent in 2007 to 33.5 percent last year.

The number of families below the poverty level in Hartford, West Hartford and East Hartford the metropolitan area used by the Census Bureau also increased, going from 29.4 percent in 2007 to 30.4 percent in 2008.

The statistics come from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, a snapshot of conditions and trends based on interviews with 3 million households nationally.

Analysts said it was unclear why Connecticut's poverty rate increased so rapidly, but speculated that the state may have been hit harder than others by the Wall Street collapse.

The figures confirm what social service agencies that serve the poor say they see every day. Nancy Pappas, director of external affairs for the anti-poverty group Community Renewal Team, said 32 percent of the 33,000 household that received energy assistance between August 2008 and April 2009 had not applied in the previous two years.

The number of families turned away from the organization's East Hartford Community Shelter because it was full nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008, Pappas said.

Ann Foley, a senior policy adviser with the state Office of Policy and Management, said that she was concerned about the trend, but that many of the state's efforts to fight poverty don't show up in the census numbers. For instance, she said, the poverty rate is based on income, alone, while subsidies for health care, child care, rent and other assistance the state provides help mitigate the problem.

David Dearborn, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said the HUSKY A program, which provides Medicaid coverage for children and eligible parents, grew from 330,381 people in October 2008 to 350,708 people in September 2009.

On Tuesday at the state Capitol, the Speaker's Task Force on Children and the Recession held its first meeting with the goal of preparing legislative recommendations for next session.

Some advocates want measures such as a state earned-income tax credit adopted, which they say would have an immediate impact on poverty.

But it also would reduce state revenue, a tough prospect with increasingly tight budgets.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, co-chairwoman of the task force, said it will study low-cost and efficient anti-poverty programs, but if the crisis deepens the state may need to consider more immediate and expensive measures.

"We're not just talking about money," Urban said. "We're talking about children's lives."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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