By Megan Hart
October 20, 2015

The poverty rate among children is down slightly in Shawnee County and statewide, but remained higher than before the recession, according to the annual Kids Count report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation compiles the reports on health, education and economic well-being annually. Some data points, like county-level poverty, are from 2013, but most are from 2014.

In Shawnee County, 22.2 percent of children lived in poverty as of 2013, when 18.4 percent of children statewide were below the poverty level. The statewide poverty measure improved to 17.7 percent in 2014, but updated county-level data weren’t yet available.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said any improvement in the childhood poverty rate was welcome, but the change isn’t impressive.

“Those are really recession-level poverty levels, not what we would expect given the national recovery,” she said. “We are lagging the region in terms of improvement in childhood poverty.”

The children’s uninsured rate dropped to 5.5 percent in 2014, Cotsoradis said, possibly due to publicity about insurance programs as health care reform rolled out. Enrollment in cash assistance and child care assistance fell, which she attributed to state policy changes. Use of food assistance increased.

“We likely have families with children in need that are going without basic needs,” she said.

The same trends in public programs played out in Shawnee County. The county tracked with the state on most measures. The exceptions were infant mortality and the number of Head Start preschool spaces available, where Shawnee County improved as the state worsened slightly, and the rate of children hospitalized for mental health reasons and the percentage of elementary schools offering full-day kindergarten, which worsened in Shawnee County but improved statewide.

Kansas and Shawnee County both improved on the following measures: median income; percentage of mothers receiving adequate prenatal care; rate of low-birth-weight babies; teens dying of unnatural causes, including motor vehicle accidents, homicide and suicide; youths who report binge drinking or using tobacco; number of Early Head Start openings compared to children younger than 3 who are living in poverty; on-time high school graduation rate; and births to mothers who haven’t completed high school.

Both the state and the county both had worse results when it came to the percentage of 2-year-olds who had received all recommended vaccines.

The number of children enrolled in free and reduced-price lunch programs increased on both the state and county level, but it wasn’t clear whether that was due to more children having incomes low enough to qualify, more parents completing the paperwork, or other factors.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.