Virginia is among one of the top-ranked states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kid’s Count Data Book. The national report looks at state trends in child well-being across the four domains of economic well-being, education, health and family & community.
Margaret Nimmo Holland is Executive Director at the policy advocacy organization Voices for Virginia’s Children. The group works to track certain well-being indicators at the locality level through grants from the Casey Foundation. She says Virginia now ranks 11th overall - a return to position held three years ago – and that means one could reasonably conclude that children in the commonwealth are doing well on many fronts.
“Specifically, there were some improvements in education in terms of on-time graduation and also in terms of health, the number of teens using substances, the number of kids who have health insurance – all these things have gotten better since the recession,” Holland tells WCVE. “Unfortunately, what sticks out for us as child advocates is the fact that our child poverty rate of 16 percent is not budging in Virginia.”
Holland says although 16 percent sounds relatively low, that national statistic masks the reality of the 291,000 children living below the 2014 federal poverty level of $24,000 for a family of four.
“When you break it down by locality, you realize that there are 26 localities that have a child poverty rate twice the state level,” she says. “So it’s really important that we disaggregate the data by geography within Virginia.”
Richmond City and Petersburg are two localities with high child poverty rates within the state’s Richmond region. According to data compiled by Voices for Virginia’s Children, nearly 50 percent of children in Petersburg live in poverty. In Richmond, it’s 38 percent.
“We really see the child poverty rate and the fact that it has remained the same for several years and we’re not moving in the right direction [as a] big red flag for the future,” Holland says. “Those are some kids we really need to intervene with, and we need to look at it from a policy level.”