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Despite growth, kids poor

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Montana has experienced four consecutive years of economic growth, but a new report from the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) indicates that Montana children aren’t reaping the benefits of the state’s improving economic situation.

Funded through the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Montana Kids Count program is a statewide effort to identify the status and well being of Montana children by collecting data and publishing the information in an annual report. According to the 2006 data book released by the BBER earlier this month, 20 percent of the state’s children ages 0-17 live in households with incomes below the federal poverty level. On top of that, 16 percent, or about 37,000, of the state’s children under the age of 18 are without any form of health insurance, compared to 12 percent nationally.

The increasing number of poor and uninsured children comes at a time when the state’s unemployment numbers are low, at 3.6 percent. But according to BBER Director of Montana Kids Count Steve Seninger, many employed Montanans are holding down jobs that don’t adequately provide for their families.

“Low-wage jobs and higher insurance premiums contribute to the increasing lack of health insurance for Montana kids, especially for low-income kids,” Seninger says.

The rate of uninsured Montana children went from 19 percent four years ago to 29 percent in 2005, according to the study. That change represents 4,000 low-income children joining the ranks of Montana’s uninsured in fewer than five years. Children under 5 represent the largest share of children in poverty, according to the data book, and there’s been little change in that rate over the past five years, according to Seninger, despite the fact that the state’s economy has continually improved.

One positive finding in this year’s report is that the number of Montana kids in the Children’s Health Insurance Program grew by 10 percent, an increase of 1,120, thanks to increased state funding for the program.

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