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Low pay, single-parent families put South Dakota children in poverty

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News Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Low pay, single-parent families put South Dakota children in poverty
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

More than a third of South Dakota's jobs are rated as "low-wage" and nearly two-thirds of the state's children live in single-parent households. Those two factors lead the reasons why 42 percent of the state's children live in low-income households, including 18 percent who are in poverty, said one expert.


South Dakota State University's Mike McCurry, the state demographer, said that when there is one low-paid adult who is solely responsible for maintaining a household and raising children, poverty or low-income status is likely. Picking up extra shifts or side work isn't really an option under those circumstances, he noted.

"Low-income" is defined as a family living on less than 200 percent of the poverty level. At the same time, a "low-wage" job is defined as a full-time job paying less than a poverty-level income for a family of four.

In the 2010 Census, for a family of two adults and two children, the poverty level was $22,162, making the low-income threshold $44,324.

The South Dakota Kids Count Factbook noted that, in 2009, 34 percent of South Dakota's jobs qualified as "low-wage." That compares to a rate of 22 percent nationally.

Nationally, 20 percent of children live in poverty, according to Census data released in November. That is the highest rate since 1993.

"Looking at children in poverty for the past three years shows South Dakota is consistently higher when compared to bordering states and is slightly lower than the nation," reads the Kids Count report titled "Snapshot of Children and Families in Poverty in South Dakota."

Only Montana had a higher percentage of children in poverty among South Dakota's neighbors, the report said.

McCurry also noted that people tend to have children at the same time they are starting out in their careers.

"Young people have kids. When I was 23 or 24, I was not at the top of my earnings. Even at 40, I was not," he said. "When my daughter was born, my wife chose to work part-time. Believe it or not, the family makes more money when she and I both work full-time."

The data backs up McCurry's observations. The Kids Count report shows that as kids get older, fewer of them are in poverty. Of South Dakotans in poverty, 13 percent are under age 6; 11 percent are ages 6-11; 3 percent are ages 12 to 14; and 2 percent are ages 15-17.

The numbers are much worse in counties that are home to Indian reservations. Poverty rates for anyone younger than 18 range from 46 percent to 67 percent in the following counties: Jackson, Bennett, Shannon, Corson, Mellette, Todd, Buffalo and Ziebach.

In 25 South Dakota counties, the poverty rate for children exceeds 20 percent. That includes all but five West River counties and eight East River counties, four of which are in The Daily Republic's print circulation area: Brule (20 percent), Jerauld (20 percent), Charles Mix (36 percent) and Buffalo (52 percent).

Starting out poor probably won't have long-term effects if the family climbs out of poverty, said Carole Cochran, project director of South Dakota Kids Count.

"We know poverty really affects very young children. There are young parents and they start at a basic wage and are working their way up. When you have your children younger, those younger children probably are living in poverty," Cochran said. "It only has an effect for the long-term if they stay in persistent and chronic poverty. That can have a detrimental impact on their whole lives."

The Kids Count report outlines a variety of factors that can lift families out of poverty, including higher incomes, the accumulation of assets, improved early literacy and safe housing. In addition, children in homes with married parents have a far lower rate of poverty than do those in singleparent households. In 2009, 53 percent of South Dakota's children younger than 5 lived in single female - headed households whose income in the past 12 months was below the poverty level. South Dakota's overall poverty rate was 13.9 percent in 2011, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. That's a higher rate than every surrounding state except Montana but below the national rate. Here are the overall poverty rates of South Dakota's neighbors: Wyoming, 11.3 percent. Minnesota, 11.9 percent. North Dakota, 12.2 percent. Nebraska, 13.1 percent. Montana, 14.8 percent. United States, 15.9 percent.

Davison County's poverty rate of 13 percent places it 31st among South Dakota's 66 counties. Lincoln County's 4.9 percent rate is the lowest, and Ziebach County's 49.9 percent rate places it highest.

For children living in poverty, Davison County has a rate of 16.1 percent, ranking it 20th of South Dakota's 66 counties.

Hanson County's relatively low poverty rate of 8.6 percent pushes the poverty rate for the Mitchell micropolitan area down to 12.4 percent. (The Mitchell micropolitan statistical area used by the U.S. Census includes Davison and Hanson counties, including the communities of Mitchell, Mount Vernon, Alexandria and Emery.)

Other counties in the Mitchell area had these poverty rates in 2011:

Sanborn County, 14.1 percent. Jerauld County, 15.3 percent. Aurora County, 12.2 percent. Douglas County, 11.6 percent. Hutchinson County, 13.1 percent. Brule County, 13 percent. Buffalo County, 39.3 percent. Charles Mix County, 24.5 percent. Bon Homme County, 16.6 percent. McCook County, 10.6 percent. Miner County, 12.5 percent.