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Bibb County ranks near bottom of state for children living in poverty

Georgia is ranked 40th in the nation in a child welfare report that found more American children living in poverty than five years earlier.

In Georgia, more than one in four children are living in poverty, and the numbers get worse in Bibb County, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report.

The report found 26.7 percent of children living in poverty in Georgia in 2013, compared with 22.7 percent in 2009. But the 2013 number was better than the 27.3 percent found to be living in poverty the previous year.

Of the state’s 159 counties, Bibb County ranked 145th for children living in poverty. The number of those in poverty increased in Bibb County, from 30.9 percent in 2009 to 44.6 percent in 2013.

Other Middle Georgia counties fared better than Bibb County -- though most also showed increases. For comparison, the study found Houston County had a slight increase of children in poverty, from 19.8 percent in 2009 to 21.9 percent in 2013.

Rebecca Rice, Georgia Kids Count coordinator, said a variety of factors likely contribute to childhood poverty, including unemployment.

“That may be a factor, why you’re not really seeing the poverty rate go down yet, is people are still struggling with jobs,” Rice said.

Bibb County’s unemployment averaged 9.2 percent in 2013, compared with 8.2 percent for the state, Rice said. For comparison, Houston County’s 7.5 percent unemployment rate for 2013 was lower than the statewide average.

Another issue is the working poor, Rice said. An estimated one third of all children across Georgia are living in families where their parents lack secure employment, she said.

“That could affect the child poverty rate,” Rice said. “You may be working, but you’re not necessarily working one of those salaried jobs, or something stable that can provide for a family.”

Kids Count found that 33 percent of children nationwide live in homes in which a parent is in the workforce but working less than 35 hours a week and less than 50 weeks a year, Rice said. Georgia did not have an apples-to-apples comparison, she said.

Georgia’s numbers at the county level look at the percentage of children in families in which no parent is employed, Rice said. About 14.4 percent of Bibb County’s children are living in homes where no parent works compared with an 8.5 percent average statewide, she said. Houston County’s percentage was 7.4 percent.

Lack of education is another contributing factor, and a positive aspect of the report for Bibb County was that its high school dropout rate continued to improve.

“Education and your ability to earn a stable income are always going to be linked,” Rice said. “Also, if you drop out of school or you don’t graduate on time, you’re less likely to go to any kind of post-secondary school, whether it’s a community college or a trade school or a four-year college or university.

“And those all impact your ability to get stable work that can support a family. I think kids who drop out of school are also more likely to enter the juvenile justice system, so obviously that is going to have a factor on the entire community,” she said.

According to Kids Count, Bibb County’s dropout rate fell from an average of 13.2 percent for 2005-2009 to an average of 6.6 percent for 2009-2013. During those same years, Houston County’s dropout rate increased to 5.6 percent from 4.7 percent. However, Houston County remained below the state average of 6.6 percent for 2009-2013. The state average also dropped; it was 8.8 percent for 2005-2009.

Travis Blackwell, executive director for Bibb Family Connection, said he thinks teen pregnancy and an unskilled work force are also factors that contribute to poverty.

His agency is involved with other agencies on varied initiatives designed to help combat realities of childhood poverty. Those initiatives include early-learning networks, a neighborhood improvement program and training improvements for child-care workers and early-education teachers.

For the complete Kids Count report, go to www.aecf.org/resources/the-2015-kids-count-data-book.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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