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Poverty on Rise for Children of Working Poor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While popular perception holds that most poor children grow up in households headed by single women on welfare, a report to be released today shows that a growing proportion belong to families with at least one parent working year-round.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, in its seventh annual study, found that the number of children living in working-poor families in the United States rose 30%, to 5.6 million, between 1989 and 1994.

Growing up in a working-poor household makes a child less likely to be fully immunized, less likely to enter school ready to learn, less likely to graduate and less likely to attend college, the report found.

“The impulse to reform welfare by enhancing self-sufficiency through work and earnings is a sound one,” said Douglas W. Nelson, executive director of the Baltimore-based private foundation. “But at the same time, we have to make certain that working will actually enable families to meet the minimum needs of their children.”

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Release of the study comes as child welfare advocates struggle to block deep cuts in welfare and other social spending programs.

The study estimates that 8% of California’s 8.6 million people under 18 lived in working-poor families in 1993, slightly more than the national average of 7.6%.

California ranked 33rd in the study’s state-by-state comparison of “indicators of child well-being,” which factored in data such as juvenile crime and school dropout rates. New Hampshire was ranked best and the District of Columbia worst.

Although children growing up in working-poor households live in slightly better economic conditions than those on the welfare rolls, they face distinct disadvantages as a result of their parents’ employment, the report states.

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If a parent’s job offers no health benefits but pays well enough to keep the family off welfare, a child in that home would be ineligible for Medicaid, according to the study. In 1994, 27% of children in working-poor families had no public or private medical insurance.

One way to help poor children is through educational reform, with more decision-making at individual schools, the report says.

It cites other ways to help lift children out of poverty, including better child care, cheaper health insurance and expansion of the earned income tax credit, accompanied by wider efforts to curb fraud.

“The truth is, we have the knowledge, resources and capacity--in the federal government, in the states, and in the private sector--to meet all these challenges,” Nelson wrote in the report. “The open question is whether we have the resolve.”

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