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Report: Poverty Plagues Thousands Of Louisville Children

Rush Hour in Louisville, Kentucky Skyline at Sunrise
Rush Hour in Louisville, Kentucky Skyline at Sunrise

Disconnection and poverty plague thousands of kids in Louisville.

About 35,800 kids in Jefferson County live in poverty — that's 22 percent of the county's some 160,000 residents under 18. And about 11,400 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of work and not attending school, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The report– County Health Rankings and Roadmaps – is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It examines health outcomes in counties across the United States and factors influencing residents’ health, like income, education and housing.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said a child's health is deeply influenced by where they live, learn and play.

"If we really want to improve children's health, we need to start with their families, their neighborhoods, and their schools,” he said. “It is about strategic and common sense efforts from local communities, Frankfort, and Washington.”

Disconnected young people, those out of work and not in school, are a drain on local economies, per the report. They lead to higher criminal justice costs and tax social services, while reducing competitiveness and tax revenues.

The rate of disconnection among young people in the United States is declining, yet some 4.9 million remain so across the country – about 12 percent of people between 16 and 24 years, according to the report. Data regarding disconnected youth was gleaned from the annual Measure of America report, an initiative from the Social Science Research Council.

The rate is slightly higher in Jefferson County – about 13 percent of young people are disconnected. Urban areas often have lower rates of disconnection than rural areas, per the report. In some rural Kentucky counties the youth disconnection rate is as high as 42 percent.

Nationally, Native American youth are disconnected at the highest rate – about 25 percent, according to the report. Young black residents’ disconnected rate is about 19 percent. Latino youth are disconnected at a rate of 14 percent. Young white residents’ rate of disconnection is 10 percent. Asian-American youth are disconnected at a rate of 7 percent, according to the report.

Poverty data was gathered from the U.S. Census. Jefferson County’s child poverty rate of 22 percent has fallen slightly since 2011, when it peaked at 27 percent. However, it remains higher than 2002, when it bottomed at 19 percent.

The poverty rate among black children in Jefferson County is more than double the rate of the county, as a whole. About 45 percent of black children in Jefferson County live in poverty, according to the report. For Hispanic children, about 36 percent live in poverty. Some 14 percent of white children live in poverty, per the report.

To live in poverty, a family of four with two children would earn no more than $24,036 annually, according to the U.S. Census.

Poverty increases a child’s risk of poor health, depression and mortality, according to the report.

In Jefferson County, the child mortality rate is 60 deaths per 100,000 residents, per the report.

This story has been updated.

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.

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