Teton County kids are falling through cracks
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 18, 2013
The number of Jackson kids who qualify for aid programs, like discounted school lunches, has more than doubled over the last decade, according to a report released this week that tracks children’s well-being in Wyoming.
The Wyoming Kids Count 2013 report shows that roughly 20 percent of Teton County’s children qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in 2011. In 2001, that number was 8 percent — an increase of 150 percent.
Statewide, 37 percent of children in Wyoming qualified for subsidized school lunch programs in 2011.
The statistic is supposed to be a measure of poverty within counties, said Kids Count Director Marc Homer. In Teton County, the school lunch number often doesn’t capture all of the families who might be struggling to make ends meet, Homer said.
Many kids — and their families — fall into a gap.
“They’re in an interesting position where they’re not officially eligible for these safety net things, but they’re not making enough money to scrape by on their own,” he said Thursday.
The report, which was released Wednesday, compiles a host of state data to rank counties on the general well-being of children who live there. Only 11 counties are included in the ranking system because some communities don’t have large enough populations.
Teton County, which has 4,156 children, ranked fourth this year in the report’s list of counties. It was tied for second place in last year’s report.
Albany, Park and Sheridan Counties all ranked ahead of Teton County in the new report.
The number of children who qualify for discounted lunch programs represented the biggest jump in statistics included in the report, which uses different spans of time for some statistics.
Last year, the report showed that 16 percent of county children qualified for free or reduced lunches in 2009, the most recent data available at the time.
The program is based on income limits. For example, a family of two adults and two children would qualify if they made less than $44,100 per year.
“Often, people use federal poverty statistics for child poverty,” Homer said. “That captures what some consider to be poverty. But it’s kind of outdated. It doesn’t capture the full range of people struggling to make ends meet.”
Teton County also saw an increase in the number of mothers who give birth outside of county lines. Approx-imately 8 percent of mothers gave birth to children outside of the county in 2011, up from 4 percent in 2000.
Out-of-county births typically highlight communities that don’t have a hospital or adequate medical care, which isn’t the case in Teton County, Homer said.
Teton County improved in a majority of the dozen categories ranked by the state group.
The teen death rate has plummeted since 2002, the availability of prenatal care has improved significantly and the number of babies born at a low birthweight has dropped nearly 20 percent since 2002.
Homer said Teton County fell behind in several categories this year, but still ranks high overall. There are plenty of medical care and childcare services available, he said.
“There’s some sort of pervasive educational structure in terms of health and how to care for children,” he said.
The full report is available at Wykids.org.