The number of kids living in poverty in Champaign County grew by nearly 43 percent in five years.
CHAMPAIGN — The number of kids living in poverty in Champaign County grew by nearly 43 percent in five years, according to a new report released Thursday by the statewide organization Voices for Illinois Children.
The annual Kids Count report, released Thursday, found 23.4 percent of Champaign County children were living at or below the poverty line in 2011, compared to 16.7 percent in 2006.
Poverty also grew among Vermilion and Coles county kids, the only other East Central Illinois counties for which numbers are available.
The report gave an overview of kids statewide, but provided rates of poverty and other statistics only for the 50 largest counties.
In Vermilion County, the number of children living in poverty rose by nearly 10 percent in the years between 2006 and 2011, with a child poverty rate of 34 percent in 2011, researchers found using U.S. Census data.
In Coles County, 25.6 percent of kids were at the poverty line in 2011, with the number of the county's needy kids growing in those same five years by nearly 60 percent.
Children in poverty live in homes in which the household income is at or below the federal poverty limit.
In 2011, that meant a household income of $18,530 for a family of three and $22,350 for a family of four.
This year, a family of three earning $19,790 and a family of four earning $23,850 would be at the poverty line.
The findings go hand-in-hand with what the Eastern Illinois Food Bank has been experiencing as the 14 counties in its service area have coped with the recession, says the food bank's Executive Director Jim Hires says.
Champaign, Coles and Vermilion counties have the highest levels of poverty in the food bank's service area, and are the three counties on the food bank's watch list, he said.
Champaign and Coles counties have been the first two counties targeted for the opening of food pantries in schools to help get food to hungry kids in their families, Hires said.
"People work, but they are just unable to make ends meet," he said.
Sue Grey, president and CEO of the United Way of Champaign County, said as poverty has risen among children, her agency has seen many first-time families seeking assistance with food, shelter and utilities.
"They had never had to do that before," she said. "They were able to get by."
Agencies serving the poor have also steadily asked the United Way for more money, Grey said.
"The need isn't going away," she adds.
The Kids Count report, entitled this year "Child Health Matters," is an annual benchmark of educational, social, economic, and physical well-being of Illinois children.
The effects of poverty on children are extensive, the authors wrote. Children living in poverty are more likely to suffer from lower birth weights, chronic medical conditions, social and emotional problems, inadequate nutrition and exposure to violence.
This year's report revealed disturbing health disparities related to such factors as family income, race and ethnicity, special health care needs, according to the report.
For example, low-income kids are more likely to be overweight or obese, less likely to be physically active and more likely to have oral health problems. African-American kids are most likely to have poor birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, and are more likely to have asthma, and Latino kids are the least likely to have coordinated, consistent medical care.
Some other findings in the report:
— Both Champaign and Vermilion counties (along with Sangamon, Peoria, Cook, Livingston and Macon counties) were identified as those with the highest rates of reported crimes against children for 2009-2011, using an average number of reported crimes for those years.
— Statewide, 625,000 Illinois kids lived below the poverty line in 2011, and 1.26 million kids were considered low-income, living below 200 percent of the federal poverty limit.
— About 15 percent of Illinois children have special health care needs, but about 40 percent of those children don't have adequate health insurance.
— Illinois has made progress reducing disparities in children's health insurance coverage, with the proportion of children without coverage declining from 6 percent in 2008 to 3 percent in 2012.
— The number of children without health insurance has also declined in Champaign, Coles and Vermilion counties, standing in 2011 at 4.2 percent in Champaign, 3.1 percent in Coles and 3.5 percent in Vermilion.
— In 2011, one-fifth of male high school students in Illinois reported carrying a weapon such as a gun, knife or club in the past 30 days.