Data released Thursday by the U. S. Census Bureau shows the percentage of West Virginians living in poverty stayed consistent last year, but the number of children living below the poverty line has grown.
According to the 2013 American Community Survey, one in three children in West Virginia under the age of 5 lived in poverty in 2013.
“That’s something that should really conjure up action from our state legislators and other people in the community,” said Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
The state’s child poverty rate in 2013 was 26.6 percent, the 7th highest in the nation. An estimated 97,818 children lived below the poverty line in 2013, increasing by more than 8,000 children from 2012.
Although state lawmakers have focused more attention on the issue in recent years, Boettner said those initiatives haven’t taken effect yet, delaying the impact they could have on the poverty rate.
Boettner used the minimum wage increase as an example. The legislature passed a bill to incrementally increase the minimum wage in West Virginia from $7.25 to $8.75, but the increase won’t fully go into effect until 2016.
“One thing that’s really important to keep in mind is that we don’t have to live in persistent poverty in West Virginia,” Boettner said. “That includes investments in early childhood intervention and education programs, enacting a refundable state earned income tax credit and investing in higher education.”