WASHINGTON – The number of Maryland children living in poverty grew by 34 percent between 1989 and 1995, rising to 171,746 children, according to a report released Thursday.
The 1999 Maryland KidsCount Factbook said that 13.2 percent of all Maryland children were living below the poverty line in 1995, up from 11.3 percent in 1989.
All counties saw the numbers of poor children increase and only one — Kent County — saw a decrease in the percentage of its children who were living in poverty.
Representatives of Maryland Kids Count Partnership — the public, private and government groups responsible for the report — said a bad economy in the early 1990s was part of the reason for the child-poverty increases.
“Maryland was doing poorly during the early ’90s because we were hit hard by the economic recession, but as the economy is growing, we are disturbed that not enough children are benefiting from these good economic times,” said Jann Jackson, executive director for Advocates for Children and Youth. It is the lead agency in the Maryland KidsCount Partnership.
Members of the partnership acknowledged that the child poverty statistics in the report do not reflect improvements that may have come as a result of welfare reform, which began in 1996. That was also pointed out by officials in Charles County, which had the states’ biggest increase in the percentage of poor kids.
“Our [welfare] caseloads have gone down dramatically since welfare reform. People have been getting jobs and our local initiatives have been quite successful,” said Nina Voehl, a Charles County spokeswoman. “It has to have improved since 1995.”
Voehl said she can understand how increases in Charles County could parallel the growth in the poverty rate of neighboring Prince George’s County since “we have such an influx of people that have moved here from there.” But she said that the magnitude of growth in the poverty rate “does surprise me because we are not a depressed area here in Charles County.”
Jennean Everett Reynolds, coordinator of the Maryland Kids Count Partnership, admitted that the report doesn’t reflect the “great job” that Maryland has done in getting people off the welfare rolls. The reason the report stopped at 1995, she said, is because that was the year for which the last reliable census numbers were available.
She said state officials should use this information in the report to craft legislation that helps children’s well-being.
“It’s important for people setting policies to be aware of how we are doing. We know that poverty is a risk factor for so many outcomes from low birth weight to juvenile justice,” Reynolds said.
The report measures the well-being of Maryland’s children in 15 areas. Not all the news was bad for Maryland, according to the report, which said:
— Arrests of children for non-violent crimes fell by 12 percent between 1990 and 1997.
— Death rates for children, ages 1 to 14, declined by 16 percent.
— Teen violence declined by 2 percent after several years of steady growth.
— The percent of mothers receiving prenatal care has increased 4 percent since 1993.
Maryland slipped slightly in its ranking among the states last year: The National KidsCount Data Book for 1998 said Maryland fell from 30th to 32nd. This year’s ranking will be released in May, but child advocates are concerned that a state as relatively wealthy as Maryland has fared so poorly.
“For the last 10 years Maryland has ranked in the bottom third of the states while we have the sixth-highest per capita income,” Jackson said.