County’s rank improved in annual Kids Count report

By: 
Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer

Seventeen percent of children in Allegan County are living in poverty, a 32-percent increase over six years, according to the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015.

Allegan County ranked 13th out of the state’s 83 countries (No. 1 had the lowest poverty rate). The county’s rank is improved from last year’s 17th placing.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said the Kids Count focuses on an array of negative outcomes.

“All of which we want to see go down,” she said.

The report collects data on 15 trends from four categories into consideration.

In Allegan County, the worst trend was the increase in the number of students eligible for free or reduced school lunch prices. It increased 85 percent, going from 23.2 percent in 2006 to 43 percent in 2012—more than 3,200 students. That brought the county much closer to the current statewide average of 48.6 percent.

Zehnder-Merrell said anyone eligible for food assistance is automatically eligible for free or reduced lunch prices.

“The program has a much higher cutoff than poverty,” she said. “Even if both parents are working, they may be working at a lower wage job with fewer hours.

“The state’s job growth is primary retail, restaurants and hospitality, and those positions don’t pay a lot.”

She explained the percent of long-term unemployed individuals is still quite high as well.

“There has not been a rapid recovery from the recession,” Zehnder-Merrell said.

For full story, pick up a copy of the March 19 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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