Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 17, 2013

Report profiles childhood poverty

TRAVERSE CITY — A recent report on child poverty shows kids living in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau counties are faring better than average, while families in Kalkaska and Antrim are still struggling.

Kids Count in Michigan reported in a study released this morning that about one in four children in the state lived in poverty in 2011, defined as $18,000 for a family of three or $23,000 for a family of four.

The rate was even higher in Antrim and Benzie counties, with nearly one out of three children living in poverty.

The report focused not only on poverty but a range of indicators from education to obesity. In Antrim County, 161.4 children per 1,000 lived in homes investigated in 2012 for abuse or neglect. That compares to the statewide average of 90 children per 1,000, the highest rate in 22 years, the report said.

Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties were bright spots in the report. They ranked as the state’s fifth and eighth best in the state, based on the percentage of children up to the age of five who qualified for food aid.

But Ty Wessell, coordinator of the Leelanau County Family Coordinating Council, was disturbed by the county’s declining child population. The county’s overall population increased by 2.3 percent from 2005 to 2011 while the number of children up to age 17 went down by 681 children, or 14.6 percent.

“It’s a challenge for school districts, obviously. It’s an indicator that we need to figure out a way to attract and employ younger families,” Wessell said. “We do know that Leelanau County is becoming more of a senior county, and I think it’s related to the availability of jobs and the transportation costs to get to low-paying jobs in the Traverse City area.”

Leelanau’s unemployment rate was an encouraging 7.4 percent in 2012, but Wessell worries young families must struggle to pay the fair market rate of $823 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to a Michigan League for Public Policy report.

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