The childhood poverty rate in Kansas has been decreasing since 2014. But a recently released report from the national KidsCount organization shows that decrease isn’t evenly distributed across the state.
In 2015, the latest year for which county-by-county numbers are available, the number of Kansas counties with the highest child poverty rates —where roughly 23 percent to 33 percent of children live in poverty — stayed relatively level, dropping to 14 counties from 15 the year before.
The big difference in Kansas child poverty rates showed up one category lower, in counties where about 18 percent to 22 percent of kids live in poverty. In 2014 that included 45 counties, but in 2015 it dropped to 35.
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families did not say whether the agency had targeted those communities nor whether efforts to reduce childhood poverty vary by county.
Taylor Forrest of DCF cited the statewide 26 percent decline in the childhood poverty rate from 2011 to 2016, crediting it to reforms under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration such as the HOPE Act and follow-up legislation.
“As an agency, we continue to encourage Kansans to achieve self-reliance and promote the well-being of families,” she said.
According to the new Kids Count information, childhood poverty statewide decreased from 18 percent in 2014 to 17 percent in 2015. In 2016, it dropped to 14 percent.
Childhood poverty also declined nationwide during that three-year period, from 22 percent in 2014 to 21 percent in 2015 to 19 percent last year.
The federal government determines poverty based on family size and annual income. For 2016, a family of two adults and two children fell in the 100 percent poverty category if their annual income fell below $24,339.
Johnson County, the county with the lowest percentage of its children below the poverty line in both 2014 and 2015, saw its rate decrease from about 8 percent in 2014 to 6.5 percent in 2015. The county with the highest percentage of its children below the poverty line, Wyandotte County, also saw a slight decrease, from 34.5 percent in 2014 to 32.1 percent in 2015.
Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.