More Tri-City kids living in poverty, new report shows

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldDecember 13, 2012 

New U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that more than one-third of Franklin County children lived in poverty in 2011 -- and that's up from about one-fourth in the previous year.

The census bureau, as part of its Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program, released a new set of poverty estimates Wednesday showing that 832 counties nationwide -- or 26 percent -- saw an increase in poverty from 2007-11 that couldn't be explained away by the statistical margin of error.

At the same time, 985 counties in the United States saw a decline in median income, a census news release stated.

The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, and results are used as one criteria for allocating federal money to school districts, acting census bureau Director Thomas Mesenbourg said in a statement.

Poverty is defined by the number of people in a family and the amount of income they have. Income has to fall below a certain threshold for a family to be considered poor, and benefits such as food stamps aren't counted.

In 2011, a family of four with two parents and two children would be considered poor if the family income was less than $22,811, according to federal guidelines.

For 2010, that same family would be considered poor if earning less than $22,113. In 2007, the threshold for that family was $21,027.

The data showed that for all age groups, poverty in Franklin County rose from 15.5 percent of the county in 2007 to an estimated 24.2 percent in 2011.

The percentage of Franklin County children and teens under age 18 rose from 21.5 percent in 2007 to 35.6 percent in 2011, census numbers showed. That equals 9,952 children and teens living in poverty last year.

But the most dramatic increase was from 2010-11, when the overall percentage of people living in poverty in the county increased from 18.8 percent to 24.2 percent, and the percentage of those under age 18 spiked from 24.9 percent to 35.6 percent.

Carla Lobos, principal of Stevens Middle School in Pasco, said she didn't know why Franklin County might be seeing such an increase, but poverty is nothing new to the students in her school.

More than 92 percent of Lobos's students qualify for free or reduced lunches under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program. Students have to be living in families with income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty threshold for free lunches and 185 percent for reduced lunches for the 2012-13 school year, according to the USDA website.

"When we look at our demographics, the majority of our kids are living in poverty," Lobos told the Herald.

But the school works to give students and families the best tools it can to help break the cycle of poverty and help students eventually move on to college, she said.

"For a lot of those families, school is a hub of resources where they feel safe," Lobos said. "They come to get information, and we have home visitors who work with our families."

Benton County saw a slight increase in poverty from 10.9 percent of residents of all ages in 2007 to 11.7 percent -- or just under 21,000 people -- in 2011.

Just under 15 percent of Benton County children and teens lived in poverty in 2007. That number had risen to 17.2 percent by 2011.

About 14 percent of Washington residents of all ages lived in poverty, and 18.5 percent of the state's children in 2011, compared to 11.4 percent of people of all ages and 15 percent of those under age 18 in 2007.

About 16 percent of people of all ages lived in poverty nationwide in 2011, and 22.5 percent of children and teens, according to the Census data.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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