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Poverty among area children rises

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Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2011 12:00 pm

By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

Poverty among Bell County children has increased nearly 6 percent in the past decade.

In 2010, more than 22,000 children were living in poverty in Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties based on data released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The numbers did not surprise Stacy Bradley, the Copperas Cove Junior High site director for Communities in Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping impoverished children.

"It's been growing steadily each year," she said. "Parents are losing their jobs, and it's hard to find new ones, and that all trickles down to the kids."

Copperas Cove resident Brenda has been barely scraping by after a chronic illness forced her out of her job at a Windsor Foods factory in Lampasas.

A single parent of two children, Brenda, who asked that her last name not be used, said she assists an elderly woman with homecare part-time, and makes about $250 a week. She has no car, and shares a small one-bedroom apartment with her 13 year-old son. Her 17 year-old daughter had to move out because the apartment wasn't big enough.

Brenda said her son, an eighth-grader at Copperas Cove Junior High, sometimes gets teased at school for his clothes and his family's economic situation.

"He wants to get out of this situation," said Brenda. "I feel guilty that I can't give my children the things that they need."

More than 1.7 million children younger than 18 live in poverty in Texas, giving the state the ninth highest rate of child poverty in the nation, according to census data. The number has grown about 5 percent during the last 10 years.

Frances Deviney, director for the "Texas Kids Count" project at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, attributes the state's high poverty rate to a high unemployment rate (8.4 percent as of October) and lack of high-paying jobs.

"Right now, we are tied with Mississippi for the highest number of minimum-wage jobs," she said. "This combination is a factor and it definitely filters down to children."

Many challenges

Deviney said children in poverty face a number of challenges as they grow up, including being less educated adults, not attending college and having a greater risk for living in poverty as adults. "It affects their foothold on their future," she said.

Despite studying hard to get good grades, 17-year-old Miajha comes from a single parent home and has two siblings. The Harker Heights High School student's torn between wanting to get a job to help support her family and pursuing her dream of attending college to become a chef.

"Yeah, I might have to wait on college," she said. "I was thinking about getting a job this year to bring in some money, but my mother wants me to concentrate on my academics."

Miajha said many children try to hide their problems from teachers and fellow students. "They don't want people to know," she said. "It's hard when they come to school and see other kids who have cars and new clothes, they want to fit in."

Bradley said she works with students to help them stay focused on their studies and break the cycle of poverty, but it isn't always easy.

"Some really excel, because they want to better their situation, but others are just scraping by with their grades," she said. "It can be hard to concentrate on school work when you are stressed out about whether or not your family has enough food. The worry literally makes some students physically ill."

When it comes to advocacy for impoverished students, Bradley and Deviney said those affected are a "silent majority," many of them ashamed or not informed enough to seek help.

"They are worried about bills, food, clothing, things like that," Deviney said.

Bradley said the nation's economic recession is forcing many middle-class families to face the same issues as those in poverty.

"Some people just don't want to talk about (the issue), they just don't want to see it," said Bradley. "They don't think it could be them, but it could."

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568.

By the numbers: Poverty rates for children

Bell County

2010: 17,646, 20.2%

2005: 15,001, 19.0%

2000: 13,069, 14.3%

Coryell County

2010: 3,195, 15.4%

2005: 3,344, 17.4%

2000: 3,175, 15.7%

Lampasas County

2010: 1,276, 26.7%

2005: 1,284, 27.5%

2000: 1,068, 21.9%

Texas

2010: 1.7 million, 25.7%

2005: 1.5 million, 24.7%

2000: 1.2 million, 20.7%

United States

2010: 15.7 million, 21.6%

2005: 13.3 million, 18.5%

2000: 11.5 million, 16.2%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Need assistance or want to help?

For more information about Communities in Schools, call (254) 554-2132.

For information about the Homeless Awareness and Response Program, Killeen Independent School District's homeless student program, call (254) 336-0000.

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