Child poverty on slow, steady rise

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- A rising number of children are living in poverty as the cost of living continues to rise and many parents work for low wages. Over the past six years, the number of children living in poverty has slowly increased.

Just last week, we told you how a staggering 50 percent of all children in Kansas are receiving free or reduced lunches. And poverty experts say there are no signs this trend will slow down anytime soon.

Many families across the metro are facing economic hardships, even in Johnson County, a place many don't expect to see poverty.  According to welfare experts, the child poverty rate in Johnson County has more than doubled since 2000, with more than 12,000 children living under the poverty level.

Officials with United Community Services believe this rise is tied to the growing number of low paying jobs in Johnson County. Many families are moving to Johnson County for work, but they're not making high enough wages and remain in a cycle of debt.

Officials say the solution is threefold. Focus on education to give the next generation the skills to find good paying jobs. Give the poor more support in their pursuit out of poverty.
And encourage businesses to pay better wages.

"It’s a challenge. It’s going to take the efforts of everyone in the community," Karen Wulfkuhle, executive director for the United Community Service in Johnson County. "It’s going to take public policies that address some of these challenges, as well as the combined efforts of the philanthropic community."

There is a lot of debate on possibly raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Most economists agree that would help millions of families escape poverty, though opponents believe companies would just raise prices to offset those added costs, increasing inflation.
This is not an easy issue to solve, and one that continues to grow in Kansas City.

"As JOCO is growing, there are more jobs in Johnson County and many of those jobs pay lower wages, and as people look for work, their wages don’t necessarily give them the type of income to meet their family’s needs," Wulfkuhle said.