About one in every four Howard County children lives in poverty.
It was one of the issues — others included a high demand for the basic necessities of food and housing — that the head of Kokomo’s United Way said concerned her most.
“The disturbing part is ... these are basic necessities, but they’re very big issues,” said Lori Tate, president of the United Way of Howard County.
The concerns stemmed from the Howard County Health & Human Services Needs Assessment, which was unveiled Monday.
Brian O’Neill, president of O’Neill Research, highlighted some of the key findings of the research study into Howard County’s biggest needs.
In almost every area examined, researchers found three recurring elements: a need for food, a need for housing and shelter and a lack of financial resources.
The report also revealed re-emerging issues with mental health, addictions and health-risk behaviors, such as smoking or overeating.
Many of the issues relate to poverty.
Children in Poverty
In 2010, 24.5 percent of Howard County’s children lived in poverty. That rate grew from 13.1 percent in 2000, according to the report.
The “chaos” that often comes from growing up in a low-income household leads to other, sometimes broader, issues, Tate said.
“Everybody has problems,” Tate said. “But I doubt very many of us were raised where we didn’t know where our next meal would come from or whether our next house will actually be our house.”
The children have been part of an overall poverty rate that in 2010 was 16 percent, which was almost 2 percentage points higher than the state’s average.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of The Indiana Youth Institute, said one of the biggest factors on child poverty rates is family structure.
According to Monday’s report, there are 836 men and 2,682 women in Howard County who are single-parent householders. Another 1,058 residents are responsible for their grandchildren.
Many of those parents and guardians have to counteract their increased financial burdens by looking for second or third jobs, which leaves them with less time with their children. That is why mentorship programs and other children’s activities have become more of a need, Stanczykiewicz said.
Children need to see successful adults in order to be successful themselves, he said.
“Kids will record what they see with their parents at home,” he said.
Another major issue resulting from childhood poverty that Stanczykiewicz noted was also an issue O’Neill highlighted in his community needs presentation: educational attainment.
Howard County, at 19.7 percent, lags the national rate of 27.5 percent for the percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Without a well-trained work force, companies won’t want to locate in or expand to the area.
“You’re not competing with Indiana for jobs,” O’Neill said. “You’re competing with the nation and the world for jobs.”
The problem for children in poverty, Stanczykiewicz said, is they are statistically less likely to go to college or graduate from high school. Doing so hurts their chances of finding work, which continues the cycle of poverty.
And for the children who receive higher education, more needs to be done to keep them in the Kokomo area, according to the assessment.
O’Neill led into his presentation by stating 9,435 people in 2009 worked in Howard County and lived in another county. Meanwhile, 4,025 people lived in Howard County and commuted to jobs in other counties.
The county’s population declined 6.9 percent between 1980 and 1990 and by 2.6 percent between 2000 and 2010.
“That’s not good,” O’Neill said. “That means people are going to other communities looking for other opportunities.”
Many of the workers who travel from another county to work in Howard County earn enough to support other jobs in the service industry. But they are supporting jobs in other cities.
O’Neill complimented the city and county for their work to improve quality of life, notably changes downtown, but more needs to happen.
“If you go look at where young, white-collar workers are, they want to live in communities with vibrant downtowns,” he said.