Home News Local news New Report: V.I. Child Poverty Rate Twice the National Average

New Report: V.I. Child Poverty Rate Twice the National Average


Jan. 11, 2007 — The U.S. Virgin Islands' child poverty rate is higher than any state in the nation, with more than one-third (35 percent) of the territory's children living below the federal poverty line.
This was just one of the compelling statistics presented Thursday morning, as the Community Foundation of The Virgin Islands (CFVI) released its annual Kids Count report, entitled "Our Children Now! Prosperity in the Future."
Armed with data gathered since 1997, the foundation gave a sobering assessment of the current status of the territory's children, pointing out several areas of concern and methods and solutions for addressing the problems — foremost being increased public awareness and involvement.
According to the report, the V.I. child poverty rate is twice the national average (18 percent), worse than even 50th-ranked Mississippi (31 percent). Furthermore, the report notes that if the territory's high cost of living was factored in, the poverty rate would be even higher. Since 2002, the overall the median income for V.I. families has fallen more than $5,000.
The report also revealed that a staggering 40.7 percent of V.I. children live in single-parent households. (The percentage of children living in two-parent households is 31 percent.)
This the seventh report issued by CFVI in conjunction with the national Kids Count program, which is now in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The data book states that the purpose of these programs is “to create a detailed community-by-community picture of the condition of children nationwide.”
CFVI has been amassing data and proposing initiatives and solutions since its inception in 1990. With an endowment of $4 million and more than 80 named funds, CFVI's mission is to “ensure the highest quality of life for both present and future generations. The former president of the foundation is current Gov. John deJongh Jr.
Opening remarks were made by CFVI Chairman Ricardo J. Charaf, who said, "We are committed to using the findings of Kids Count to improve the lives of the children of the Virgin Islands. By addressing the needs of our children now, we can insure a prosperous future for all.”
Quoting from a previous address by native Virgin Islander Ralph Smith, CFVI President Dee Baecher-Brown spoke of the challenges presented by 10 years of data collection. “The question I invite you to join in asking is this, ‘How can we know as much as we do, spend as much as we do, care as much as we say we do, and accomplish so little for so many children over such a long period of time.'”
“Kids Count is our way of mobilizing the community,” said Baecher-Brown, “and we really need to do something about it now.”
Kids Count Director Judith Richardson noted that child poverty "is the one indicator that impacts every other indicator that we measure. In our analysis, we begin with the bad news and end with the good news. The bad news is that in the territory, the child poverty rate is twice the national rate … The good news is that we have found effective ways of reducing childhood poverty.”
Richardson continued: "What we learned is that the first step in breaking the cycle of poverty is to raise community awareness of poverty in the territory. Until we acknowledge [poverty] … we cannot begin to tackle the problem.”
UVI professor Patricia Rhymer-Todman compared the local data with the national figures. While infant mortality, teen birth, and dropout rates in the territory improved, the numbers worsened for child abuse, percentage of low birth-weight babies, violent crime and the number of teens neither working nor in school.
In a previous study, the foundation found that for every dollar spent on early education and childcare, seven dollars were saved from future expenses in crime prevention, unemployment, remedial education and tax revenue.
According to the report, there's no magic bullet to solve the myriad of problems. Progress will be made only with a multifaceted approach — one that addresses the problems on a variety of levels: physical, social, cultural, economic and educational.
After providing a historical perspective of Kids Count reports, CFVI Director Alda Monsanto said, “We challenge the community. We challenge you, as individuals, to step up and to step in. We ask you to become an advocate for the children.”
Echoing Smith once again, Baecher-brown concluded, “A community that cannot mobilize to save its children need not worry about its future. It will not have one.”
The foundation encourages the public to get copies of this year's Kids Count report, which is available by calling CFVI at 774-6031 or via its website.
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