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Why Do 27 Percent of Kentucky's Kids Live in Poverty?

On Tuesday, we examined a report that said 27 percent of Kentucky children in 2012 lived in poverty.The issue of poverty raises plenty of question. One of them is simply: What factors contribute to the financial struggles of Kentucky's families and children? And what can be changed?A  leading cause is a lack of access to and dwindling opportunities for economic gain,  said Terry Singer, the dean of the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville.Singer said the issue of poverty is a problem that is not showing signs of stopping.“I don’t see anything right now that is going to move people out of poverty,” he said.“The opportunities are just not there.”Singer said the best way to begin putting an end to poverty is through social policy reform.The blanket of poverty also touches other key elements of child development—education, health and the well-being of the family, Kentucky Youth Advocates executive director Terry Brooks told WFPL earlier this week. He suggested a state-level earned income tax credit could help address the issue.Kentucky ranks 35th in the nation for overall child well-being, according to the Kids Count report released on Tuesday.“My hypothesis is that until and unless we address the issue of poverty, those other indicators such as education are simply not going to move at a sufficient pace," said Brooks. Kentucky Youth Advocates produced the state-level report with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.Singer said residents need “more understanding” of what it means to live in poverty. “Once you set into place this pathway to poverty, it gets worse a lot later and it costs us a lot of money,” Singer said.Living in poverty oftentimes translates into living in unfavorable neighborhoods where children, especially, can be exposed to deviant behavior beginning at an early age, Singer said.“If you don’t spend the money on the front end you pay a whole lot more in the end when you are building more prisons, when you have people that are uneducated that can’t meet the development of the new opportunists,” he said.Jason Bailey, the director of the think tank Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said these children are victims of shrinking wages and a job market still struggling to recover from the recession. Government funds, he said, have been cut at times when more money was needed.Eric Schansberg, an Indiana University Southeast economics professor who has been affiliated with the Bluegrass Institute, said last year that improving public educationwould go a long way to helping people in poverty.Singer said reforms are needs—not just to address job growth and wage increase, but the entire spectrum of daily life.“People say poverty should not be an excuse and to some degree that is true,” he said.  “But most of us need help with something in our lifetime.”   But change is also needed in how people talk about poverty, Singer said. Rhetoric that portrays people living in poverty as deficient and laziness stands in the way of change.“As long as you’ve got the mindset that these are not fully equipped people, not fully capable people, and in some people’s eyes, not even human, it is really tough to get enough support to make something happen,” Singer said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.