105,000 of Iowa’s children live in poverty — and it hasn’t gotten better in years, a new study says
26 June 2018 | By Kim Norvell, Des Moines Register
More than one in seven Iowa children live in poverty — 105,000 in all — a number that has remained stubbornly stagnant despite extremely low unemployment, a new study says.
While Iowa ranks fifth in the nation for the overall well-being of its children, its struggles with child poverty remain, according to the annual Kids Count report, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation late Tuesday.
Iowa’s poverty numbers among children haven’t changed for at least two years, the report says. Nationally, more than 14 million children live in poverty.
Iowa’s unemployment rate has dropped from 6.6 percent in May 2009 (the height of the Great Recession) to 2.9 percent in February 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But wage increases haven’t necessarily kept up, critics say. And attempts to increase the state’s minimum wage above $7.25 an hour have been rolled back by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature.
On kids, poverty can have lasting effects that are hard to overcome, experts say.
“Poverty is something that’s really hard to recover from,” said Jill Applegate, Iowa program director for Every Child Matters. “Even if they don’t understand their financial situation, they can understand that they’re not getting everything that they need, and that creates this toxic stress that impacts them their entire lives, whether or not they end up moving out of poverty.”
The annual Kids Count report, which analyzes 16 indicators of child well-being at the state and national level, is compiled in conjunction with the Iowa Child and Family Policy Center, a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Des Moines.
Nationally, Iowa ranks fourth among all states in economic well-being, seventh in education, eighth in health and eighth in family and community.
Lack of child care contributing to high poverty
To Applegate, Iowa’s 15 percent childhood poverty rate points to the ongoing child care crisis affecting the state.
Iowa is short nearly 359,000 child care spaces for children 12 and younger, according to estimates from the Iowa Women’s Foundation.
Many who do find child care can’t afford it.
On average, a family of four — including one infant and one toddler — is estimated to need $1,031 for child care expenses, nearly twice as much needed to cover housing, according to the United Way’s household survival budget.
In Iowa, monthly household survival costs for a single adult total $1,630. Annually, that’s $19,560.
For a family of two adults, an infant, and a preschooler, ALICE’s estimated monthly costs are $4,371, or $56,772 annually.
“For kids living in poverty, that’s an indicator that their parents are struggling to provide economic security for their entire family,” Applegate said. “In order for parents to work and provide income for their families, they need to have workforce support so they can go to their jobs every day.”
Too few children attend preschool
Michael Crawford, Iowa Kids Count director, agrees.
Providing access to affordable child care will help lift up another category in which Iowa struggles — the number of children ages 3 and 4 who are in school, he said.
Half of Iowa’s children are enrolled in early education before kindergarten, according to the latest Kids Count report.
“If you have kids in daycare, it makes it easier for parents to work,” Crawford said. “And it’s becoming more and more important for those kids to get a jump on education. If they don’t have it, they’re behind from day one (in kindergarten).”
One bright note in the 2018 report is Iowa’s teen birth rate, which has dropped 41 percent in the past six years, to 17 per 1,000 residents.
Another: The number of high school students not graduating on time has dropped from 12 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 9 percent in the 2015-16 school year.
“If you flip that around, that’s 91 percent of kids who are graduating on time,” Crawford said. “That’s very much at the top of all 50 states.”