Of all the New England states, Rhode Island has the highest poverty rate – 19 percent – of children under the age of 18, according to the 2017 Kids Count report.
Maine followed at 17 percent; Massachusetts and Connecticut are each at 15 percent, Vermont had 13 percent and New Hampshire had 11 percent, according to the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
While the poverty rate of Rhode Island has consistently been the highest, it has gone down slightly from 2013 to 2015. In Connecticut, the poverty rate stayed the same from 2013 to 2015. Nationally, the poverty rate remained relatively steady at 21 percent.
Both states, Rhode Island and Connecticut have similar reasons why the kids and families in their communities are under the belt of poverty. Both of these states have families where the parents earn a low income and then most of that income ends up going towards their bills.
“The report found the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment at $1,154. Kids Count said rental vouchers would help families working at the federal poverty level, who spend 71 percent of their income on rent,” Rhode Island Public Radio reported.
The education achievement gap may also play a role in both states. In Rhode Island, the rate of students who did not graduate from high school was 12 percent while in Connecticut, the rate was 8 percent in 2015.
Experts called for more support and services to reduce poverty.
“In the short term, we need to support crucial programs and services that reduce the negative effects of poverty on our children and families,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Rhode Island Kids Count’s executive director, said in a statement.
Rhode Island Kids Count recommends improving access to support for working parents, including childcare assistance and the food programs WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also suggests ensuring access to health and dental care for all children as well as affordable housing and early childhood education.
“To improve long-term outcomes, we must ensure access to high-quality education and the educational achievement of current students in Rhode Island, while also improving the education levels and job skills of their parents,” Bryant said.
The agency said that poverty, and the chronic stress it places on children, often results in adolescent and adult difficulties, including physical and behavioral problems, teen pregnancies and unemployment.
Connecticut is taking an approach much like Rhode Island in reducing the barriers to getting out of poverty.
The Child Poverty and Prevention Council was a collective effort of different agencies to address the issues of poverty. In a report from 2013, some of the priorities were enhancing income and income-earning potential, helping low-income families build assets and enhancing affordable health care, housing, child care and early education.
Ajaunni Laudat is a student at Achievement First, Amistad High School, New Haven.