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Mike Goodman comments concerning child poverty rate in Springfield

Child poverty rate rises

SPRINGFIELD - With troubling implications for the city's future, Springfield ranked sixth worst in the nation for the percentage of its children living in poverty in 2006, according to recent census figures.

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey found that 44.6 percent of people under age 18 in Springfield lived below the federal poverty line in 2006. That was more than three times higher than the state's child poverty rate, 12.4 percent, and well more than twice the national rate of 18.3 percent in 2006.

Those who study poverty say it is at the root of many social problems, and so has effects far beyond itself.

"Down the road, there's going to be a negative impact in terms of spending on crime, education and social services," said Nancy R. Folbre, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst who studies the economics of families.

"There is a lot of social science research that suggests that poverty has long-term negative impacts on children, especially if it is prolonged and especially if it involves very young children," she said.

The new figures show a marked increase in the child poverty rate for Springfield compared to those from the 2000 federal census. In 1999, 31.6 of related children from 5 to 17 years old lived in poverty in Springfield, the 2000 census found. According to the new figures, in 2006, the figure had climbed to 46.6 percent.

In contrast to Boston or New York City, where rents and home prices are generally higher than in surrounding areas, Springfield has some of the cheapest housing in the Connecticut River Valley. That has attracted young families, immigrants and the poor, increasing poverty rates in the city in recent years.

According to the census figures, Gary, Ind., had the highest child poverty rate in the nation in 2006 at 54.2 percent. Other Massachusetts cities in the top 50 were Lawrence, No. 34, with a rate of 38.9 percent; and New Bedford, No. 44, with a rate of 36 percent.

Only cities with populations above 65,000 were surveyed. Holyoke, which is known to have a child poverty rate comparable to Springfield's, was not surveyed.

The census survey was based on a sampling of residents, so the rate has a large margin of error. Census officials said Springfield's actual rate could vary from 38.3 to 50.9 percent.

"But no matter whose numbers you rely on, it's clear child poverty is a serious problem in Springfield. It underscores the need for investment in economic development and job creation in the city," said Michael D. Goodman, director of economic and policy research for the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.

Poverty can create a vicious cycle, say sociologists. When a neighborhood or city does become impoverished, many affluent residents move out, increasing the impoverishment.

However, Timothy W. Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, said, "It's a vicious cycle if you let it remain a vicious cycle. There are a whole variety of interventions under way in Springfield."

Some of those programs to help poor children and their families escape their economic conditions in the city are those offering free school lunches, prekindergarten education, job training and academic tutoring.

For instance, Step Up Springfield is an educational initiative that aims to improve the academic skills of the city's public school children. It is funded mainly by the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, which is based in Springfield, and Massachusetts Mutual Financial Group.

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