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By Richard Asinof
WARWICK – The findings of the 2013 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook released Monday at a policy breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick revealed a growing income gap between the richest and poorest families.
Between 2007 and 2011, about 39,600 children, almost 18 percent of all Rhode Island children, lived below the federal poverty threshold, $18,498 for a family of three. But poverty was found disproportionately in the state’s four core cities – Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket, where 35.3 percent of children live below the poverty level, compared with 9.4 percent in the rest of the state.
As the result, the Factbook found that Rhode Island is among the top 10 states with the fastest-growing income equality. Rising housing costs were cited as playing a key role, with 26 percent of Rhode Island’s working households spending more than half their incomes on housing costs, making Rhode Island the most housing cost-burdened state in the nation, according to the report.
Further, the number of homeless children staying at homeless shelters rose 17 percent from 2011 to 2012, from 1,092 to 1,277, the report found.
Overall, the Factbook tracks the well being of children and youth in each of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns, using 68 different indicators to measure the improvements and deficits in aspects of children’s lives from birth through adolescence.
Three new indicators were added this year: gun violence, measuring the number of firearm-related deaths and hospitalizations in Rhode Island; preschool special education; and schools identified for intervention.
“Our state’s economic future depends on healthy children and strong families,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count. “We need to ensure that Rhode Island’s public policy investments in child care, early education, health care, K-12 and adult education are maintained for our children’s progress today and in the future.”
Bryant said the Factbook showed improvements in many maternal and infant health outcomes, including a decreased teen birth rate, fewer infants born at the highest risk factors – to unwed teen mothers without a high school degree, and fewer preterm births. There were also reductions in childhood obesity, with the prevalence of obesity among children entering kindergarten the lowest in 10 years.
In addition, on a positive note, the report found that children’s health insurance coverage remains strong, with 94.1 percent of Rhode Island’s children having health insurance, 10th best in the United States.
Bryant also said that there had been gains in dental access, with the number of dentists accepting children with medical assistance reaching a new high of 406 participating providers.
Despite the progress made in some areas of health for children, Bryant told Providence Business News that elevated blood lead levels in Rhode Island’s children were troublesome. Under the new standards released in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “12.8 percent of children in Rhode Island statewide, 17.4 percent in the state’s core cities, and 20.6 percent in Providence have elevated levels of lead in their blood for the children entering kindergarten in the fall of 2014,” she said.
A recent study by the Providence Plan correlated reduced performance on the standardized New England Common Assessment Program tests as well as up to $17 million in increased special education costs to combat elevated blood lead levels.
At the breakfast, Ivy Barclay, a member of Young Voices and a junior at Paul Cuffee School, a charter school in Providence, spoke of her commitment to improving education for fellow youth in Rhode Island. “I am determined to become successful in life, and also want my peers to have the chance to succeed,” she said in prepared remarks.