CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Without its persistently high rate of child poverty, West Virginia could reduce other nagging societal problems like the rates of divorce, obesity, addiction and teen pregnancy.
That's the premise of a new report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. That report, released Tuesday, details the state's "growing and persistent" problem with child poverty -- an issue that has plagued West Virginia for generations.
"When people aren't living in poverty, they aren't committing as many crimes, they're eating healthier," said Stephen Smith, executive director at the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. "They do better."
According to the report, more than a quarter of West Virginia children live below the poverty line; another quarter live on the edge of that line and are termed "low income." More than 10 percent are in "deep" poverty -- for a family of four that means living on less than $11,500 a year.
"That's not a minor thing; that's not a little sporadic issue here and there," Smith said. "It affects everybody."
The report places the immediate and long-term costs of child poverty in West Virginia at about $3.9 billion. National estimates are as much as $500 billion.
Next Tuesday, the authors of the report will announce a platform for the current legislative session, including increased participation in federal programs that provide support for impoverished families and a palette of new policies. Among other things, they want to establish a State Earned Income Tax Credit, modeled after the federal credit that provides a tax benefit to low-income, working families.