Statewide the number of children living in poverty increased, according to the recent Kid's Count report. Harvey County followed that trend as well.
The percentage of children living in poverty in Harvey County increased in the five years documented in the study — up from 12.7 percent to 16.38 percent. Overall the county ranks 37th in the state. Johnson County ranks first at 8.16 percent. Wyandotte County ranks last at 34.63 percent.
“I don't know if that really surprises me,” said Jennifer Rose, director of Peace Connections and the Circles of Hope poverty program. “Newton usually hovers just above the state.”
She was presented with the numbers the day after a celebration of the Circles program — participants were winding their 18 month commitment and as a class had increased their incomes by 10 percent.
“I think the circles group is making a difference for families that are committed and I wish more people would take advantage of it,” Rose said.
The number of children on free and reduced meal plans at school crept above 50 percent for the third consecutive year, set at 50.63 percent in 2013. That rate is down from a peak of 51.13 percent in 2012. The same report showed more children supported by food stamps in the county, moving from 933 children in 2009 to 1,418 children in 2013.
“So many of those benefits have been cut and income guidelines have gotten tighter, to see it rise that much when it has been tougher to get them is concerning,” Rose said.
The percentage of Kansas children living in poverty increased between 2008 and 2013, although the state's ranking for children's overall well-being remained the same, according to the annual Kids Count report.
The report ranked the state 15th on overall child well-being, using data from 2013 that considered families' economic health, community and family structure and children's educational progress and health. The 2013 data was the most recent available.
“Poverty continues to rise across the state,” Rose said. “How do we address this? It is rising in our community, especially with the children. Circles is a multi-generational approach. We work with the children as well of the parents.”
The report found that 19 percent of Kansas children lived in poverty in 2013, compared with 15 percent in 2008. It also found 24 percent of Kansas children had a parent who didn't have full-time, year-round employment. Other data showed only 6 percent of teenagers weren't either in school or working.
Nationwide, about 22 percent of children lived in poverty and 31 percent lived in a household without a parent who had full-time, year-round employment. About 14 percent of children also lived in "concentrated" poverty areas, meaning 30 percent or more of the population in their census tract was in poverty, according to the report. In Kansas, 9 percent of children live in areas of concentrated poverty.
Kansas ranked ninth in the country for economic well-being based on the percentage of children living in poverty; children whose parents don't have full-time, year-round employment; children in households that pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing; and teens who are neither in school nor working.
It is troubling that childhood poverty increased from 2008 and that more children are living in areas of concentrated poverty, said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children.
"This should be a time of growing prosperity for Kansas children and families, but instead we are mostly stagnant," she said. "Our state's unsustainable tax structure threw Kansas into a dangerous, perpetual budget crisis. As long as the Kansas budget is stuck in recession-era levels of investment, Kansas children will be stuck with a recession-era quality of life."
Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the report showed fewer Kansas children were living in poverty in 2013 than in 2012. The number decreased from 135,000 children in 2012 to 132,000 in 2013, though the percentage was about 19 percent in both years.
"The (poverty) 'worsened' notation on this year's kids count profile is compared to 2008," she said. "Kansas improved in 14 of the 16 indicators."
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.