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Report: Child poverty spikes in D.C. region

Thursday - 9/6/2012, 2:01pm  ET

Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The idea that poverty is limited to big cities and urban living is changing in the capital region as childhood poverty rates spike in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to a new study.

In Montgomery County, for example, childhood poverty rose from 4.1 percent in 2005 to 9.7 percent in 2010, according to the report by Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), a D.C. philanthropic investment organization.

The most staggering spike is seen in Alexandria, where the childhood poverty rate jumped from 3.4 percent to 13.7 percent.

"Some of our most affluent suburbs now have poverty that has doubled, tripled and even quadrupled in size. That's a trend one should be worried about," says Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of VPP.

D.C.'s child poverty rate is well above the national average of 21.6 percent, the report says. About 30 percent of children in the District live in poverty, defined by the federal government in 2010 as an income of $22,113 or less for a family of four.

"Our children are in crisis," says Cole, adding that poverty levels in D.C. are higher than in many developing countries.

The percentages of children living in low-income homes - those with a household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty line - also appear stark: 51 percent in D.C., 36 percent in Alexandria, 29 percent in Prince George's County and 28 percent in Arlington, according to the report.

Across Virginia, 32 percent of children are considered low-income compared to 44 percent nationally, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. In Maryland, that figure is 27 percent. While both states are below the national average, they share a striking similarity: Only 33 percent of adults in Virginia and 35 percent of adults in Maryland have a bachelor's degree.

"Parents without a college education often struggle to earn enough to support a family," the center says.

Other contributing factors cited by the VPP report include a rise in single-parent households and an uptick of limited-English speaking children who have a hard time navigating the education system.

The stresses of living in poverty can actually lead to learning disabilities in adolescents, according to a series of studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

High levels of stress hormones impact the development of the brain, inhibiting cognitive functions like planning, impulse control and paying attention. These problems can be magnified when parents feel overworked or distracted by problems in their lives.

"Although parents in poverty can and do provide sensitive care, they are less likely to do so, given the realities of their situation and, potentially, their own high stress levels," says Clancy Blair, one of the lead researchers of the NIH study.

Locally, more than 43,000 kids weren't enrolled in school in 2010. Cole says this signifies that it's time for individual cities and counties to act more cohesively when addressing child poverty.

"Each jurisdiction has really been kind of hunkered down on their particular issues, but they need to really be looking across the region and trying to solve the issues cross-regionally," she says.

"When we look at young people in need, their families move ... from one jurisdiction to another, and so the region needs to understand that and solve the problems together."

Click here to look at an interactive version of the report and to find out where your city ranks for childhood poverty.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)