By Peter Hancock
September 28, 2017
TOPEKA — The child poverty rate in Kansas has been falling for the last five years, according to a new report by a national child advocacy group, a trend that Gov. Sam Brownback attributes to welfare reform policies that he has pushed through.
Kansas child advocates, however, say the improvement in Kansas reflects a national trend that is probably unrelated to individual state policies.
The latest Kids Count Data Book, published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows the child poverty rate in Kansas fell 5 percentage points, to 14 percent, from 2012 to 2016. That’s the lowest level recorded since 2004.
The report, which is based on U.S. Census estimates, says 36,000 fewer children were living in poverty in Kansas in 2016 than in 2012.
The national child poverty rate, which tends to run a little higher than the Kansas rate, also fell during that period, from 23 percent down to 19 percent.
“The welfare reform we’ve done in Kansas has really produced some good numbers,” Brownback told reporters in touting the numbers on Thursday. “We’re a national model. We get a lot of copying of it nationwide. The job growth we’ve had in the state has been really good so we’re getting the child poverty numbers really dipping hard, which is great seeing that taking place.”
John Wilson, a former Democratic lawmaker from Lawrence who is now vice president of advocacy for Kansas Action for Children, however, said it is more likely that the reduction in Kansas reflects a national trend.
He also said the trend has not been uniform across the state.
“While overall childhood poverty in Kansas is decreasing, children of color remain more likely than their white counterparts to live in poverty,” Wilson said in an email statement. “It is unacceptable that nearly one in three African-American and one in five Latino Kansas children live in poverty. Clearly more must be done to address the additional barriers faced by children of color.”
According to the report, 32 percent of African-American children in Kansas live in homes with incomes below the poverty level, a rate that is virtually unchanged since 2012.
The poverty rate among Hispanic and Latino children in Kansas was 21 percent in 2016, the report said. That was down from 33 percent in 2012.