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Study shows Alaska children living in poverty rose in '90s

Posted: Friday, March 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE - The problem of children living in poverty worsened in Alaska more than in any other state during the 1990s, a time when the national economy flourished, a new study says.

The study, based on U.S. Census data, was co-published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization that focuses on disadvantaged families, and the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit that analyzes trends.

According to the study, children's lives improved over the decade on most measures nationwide, but there were mixed findings for Alaska.

Alaska children appear to be faring worse on five key measures, including the poverty rate, the study found. Their circumstances improved on four others, including the dropout rate, and remained unchanged on two.

"Alaska was doing good. It is still doing pretty good, but it didn't improve that much in the 1990s," Bill O'Hare, a foundation spokesman, told the Anchorage Daily News.

Fewer Alaska children quit school than the nationwide average. Fewer lived in families headed by a high school dropout. Even with the increase in poverty, the rate here in 2000 was lower than the national average.

But in 1990, 10 percent of Alaska children lived below the poverty line. And 10 years later, it was 13 percent below the line, which at that time was $17,463 for a family of four. That works out to a 30 percent increase at a time when child poverty nationwide dropped, the study found.

The researchers didn't look for causes. But there are hints of what may contribute. Alaska's job base overall has been healthy, but some areas, including fishing and timber, suffered in the 1990s.

Leaders with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, which runs rural Head Start child learning centers and other programs, say the salmon fishing disasters in Western Alaska have hurt many families.

Welfare reform also has pushed families from their home villages into hub communities to look for jobs. And they may still be struggling, said Shirley Pittz, director of RuralCAP's child development division.

The report's finding about worsening child poverty in Alaska was unexpected and is a concern, said Bob King, press secretary to Gov. Tony Knowles.

It also is reason for lawmakers to support Knowles' proposal for expanded children's health and social services under a package called Smart Start, King said. A House subcommittee, citing a projected $1.1 billion budget gap next fiscal year, has proposed cutting many of the programs.



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