ASSOCIATED PRESS November 6, 1997
SACRAMENTO -- Despite California's booming economy, one-quarter of the state's children live in poverty and nearly one-half live in low-income households, according to a study by Children Now. The 28-page report card issued by the advocacy group acknowledges a trend to lower rates of high school dropouts, but finds other data "paint a tough picture for many of California's children" and parents who work for low wages. "Concerted county, state and private-sector actions are all needed if we expect children to thrive in the new economy," said Children Now President Lois Salisbury.
The report, released yesterday, found: Of California's 9.5 million children, one-quarter live in poverty, defined as an annual income of $15,600 or less for a family of four -- an increase of nearly 3 percent since 1990. Forty-six percent of California's children live in families with incomes low enough to qualify for subsidized school meals ($29,000 or less annually for a family of four). Child-care costs, averaging $407 monthly for a preschooler, amount to one-half the earnings of a full-time, minimum-wage worker.
More than 1 million children have a parent earning the minimum wage. Even with increased school spending, California spends $1,000 less per pupil than the national average. The average county collects just $78 monthly for each child support order.
Along with the report card, Children Now released a county data book, aimed at detailing challenges facing counties as welfare reforms take effect. Urban counties have the highest child care and housing costs, according to the report, while rural counties face high unemployment rates and intense competition for jobs.
The report analyzes counties according to 17 ranked indicators of children's well-being, including numbers of children on welfare, unemployment rates, child immunization rates, access to prenatal care, child abuse rates and youth arrests.
Counties with the best average ranks are Marin, Amador, Mariposa, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, El Dorado, Inyo and Nevada. T
hose facing the most challenges are Yuba, Fresno, Tulare, San Joaquin, Kern, Los Angeles, Merced and Madera.
The advocates said county efforts toward children's welfare are poorly documented. "Children are the ones most affected by welfare and other program decisions serving low-income Californians," the report states. However, "there is no tracking by county of how many children live in poverty, are hungry or malnourished, lack health insurance, are awaiting quality child care." The report urges increased efforts to reach more than 500,000 children who are eligible but not enrolled in Medi-Cal, and new public-private sector approaches to insure children who are presently ineligible for subsidized health care.
Copyright 1997 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.