Connecticut's Child Poverty and Prevention Council met with a panel of national experts Friday to study recommendations to reduce persistent poverty in the state.
The bipartisan group of university professors and directors of institutes, task forces and think tanks throughout the nation winnowed a list of 67 recommendations assembled by the poverty council down to a more manageable 13. But statistics distributed at the same gathering by the state Commission on Children show that the scope of poverty in the state is far-reaching and persistent.
In 2006, one in 10 children under 18 lived in a family with income below the federal poverty level of $20,516 for a family of four, and there has been no progress in reducing that number since 1990, despite an aggressive effort to move welfare recipients into jobs.
The highest concentrations of poverty are in the cities. Last year, for example, with 43.4 percent of its children living in poverty, Hartford had the sixth-highest child poverty rate in the nation among cities with populations over 100,000. At the same time, it was estimated that 41 percent of the adults in Greater Hartford were functioning below the literacy level needed to earn a living wage, according to the Greater Hartford Literacy Council.
The panel set a goal of cutting the state's child poverty rate in half by 2014. It also recommended a multifaceted approach to improving education for poor children and stabilizing their families, by making child care, housing and health care more affordable through subsidies and more accessible through campaigns to ensure families know what's available to them.
To improve education and prospects for working parents, the experts suggested making preschool full-day and full-year and making grades K-3 full-year programs. They said that will improve the children's academic achievement and make it easier for their parents to work without having to pay for day care.
The panel also suggested the state establish an earned income tax credit for low-wage earners and advertise the existence of the federal earned-income tax credit.
To improve children's prospects of growing up in two-parent households, the group urged legislators to scrutinize the tax code to ensure there are no tax penalties associated with marriage and to concentrate on policies that will reduce teen pregnancy and the dropout rates of young men.
"There is increasing evidence that young, especially minority, males are dropping out of school and failing to enter the workforce and that these problems are contributing to low rates of marriage, the rise of lone parenting, high child poverty and a disturbing share of children whose fathers are imprisoned," the panel said.
In Hartford, a city with 36,000 children, as many as 6,000 — one in every six — have at least one parent in prison, according to Hartford-based Families in Crisis, an organization that helps families of prisoners. The agency's estimated range is 4,500 to 6,000, though experts say those numbers, based on the proportion of Hartford residents in prison, are conservative.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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