Child poverty rates in Lake County increase

LAKE COUNTY — According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, child poverty is up in 80 of the state's 83 counties since 2006, including Lake County.

As of 2014, 44.4 percent of Lake County children live below the poverty line, which was a 17 percent increase since 2006. This means Lake County has the highest child poverty rate in any county in Michigan. It also has the second lowest rate of child well being of any Michigan county.

Childhood abuse and neglect also increased during the time period in question. In Lake County, an average of 68.6 out of every 1,000 children had to live with some level of abuse and neglect. This is compared to a state average of 14.7 of every 1,000 children.

These statistics were collected by the Kids Count of Michigan, a part of a broader national effort. Its goal is to measure the well-being of children and use the data collected to improve their lives. Its results are published annually, and has been for the last 25 years.

"The Michigan League for Public Policy has been producing the Kids Count report for 25 years, but low-income kids are still struggling and the repercussions touch every part of their lives," said Gilda Z. Jacobs, the president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. "Lawmakers have a responsibility to protect Michigan kids and with this report we provide the information and recommendations for how they can do that."

Among the recommendations the group offers are investing in communities to create safe neighborhoods, clean air and water, quality schools and adequate police and fire services. They also advise strengthening policies which support workers such as the earned income tax credit, providing increased mental health and substance abuse programs for parents to reduce the level of childhood abuse and neglect, and ensured access to quality childcare services and schools.

"We think all kids count — no matter where they live, what their racial or ethnic background is, or what their family's income level is — but we wonder if our elected officials charged with protecting their well-being share that priority," said Alicia Guevera Warren, the Kids Count in Michigan project director. "The Kids Count is not meant to just simply be a reporting tool, but a catalyst for action. If legislators are truly concerned with child well-being, they have to address income and racial disparities and invest in proven two-generation strategies that help kids by helping their parents. For example, promoting quality childcare options to improve childhood learning and allowing the parent to have more flexibility for how they work."

With more kids living in poverty, Warren said this means a lot of families are still struggling despite unemployment rates improving in the state.