Mark Bennett: Vigo’s child poverty rate reflects general health issues | News columns


Almost all of the children who come to Ryves Youth Center for its free services – food, study tools, mentorship, supervision, activities, safety, peace – live in poverty.

So the fact that Vigo County now has the highest child poverty rate in Indiana doesn’t change day-to-day life in Ryves. The donation-driven Catholic Charities in Terre Haute facility, located at 14th and Chestnut streets, has helped more than 1,000 children between the ages of 3 and 18 last year, and another 267 so far in 2022.

Its manager, Jim Edwards, has served at Ryves since it opened in 1982. He has noticed one difference, however, from the escalating child poverty here – its intensity.

“We see more needs in children who live in poverty,” Edwards said Thursday afternoon.

This need may be a safe place to go after school, as a parent’s low-income job will not cover childcare. Or a hot meal, a backpack of food for a weekend, a volunteer grandparent to listen to his fears, a computer for homework, a tutor to understand algebra. All are free for the child and his family.

Instead of coming to Ryves for one of these needs, some young people now come for multiple needs. Or all of the above.

Child poverty in Terre Haute and surrounding counties was illuminated by the release on Wednesday of annual county health rankings and roadmaps from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This respected report showed that 28% of children in Vigo County aged 18 and under live in poverty. That’s 3% higher than Lake County, which has Indiana’s second-highest child poverty rate.

That’s not the only concern in the county’s health rankings. Vigo ranks second in food insecurity, third in avoidable hospital stays, fourth in cases of sexually transmitted infections, fourth in burden of childcare costs, sixth in prevalence of HIV cases and has the fifth lowest median household income.

County residents also rank in the bottom third of the state for premature death, adult smoking, and adult obesity.

Overall, Vigo County ranked among the unhealthiest counties in Indiana. Vigo ranked 69th out of 92 counties for health outcomes (span and health status of living people) and 85th for health factors (health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and environment physical).

Every county in America “has strengths and weaknesses,” Christine Muganda and Michael Stevenson, heads of the County Health Rankings data analysis team, told the Tribune-Star on Thursday. Vigo’s positives include residents’ access to exercise opportunities (top half in Indiana) and one of the lowest rates in the state of workers driving long trips alone.

A significant and timely concern reflected in the ranking is the adequacy of school funding. Vigo County ranked 72nd in Indiana in funding per student. The calculations are based on equity, and each county’s needs vary, so the formula takes that into account, according to analysts at the UW Population Health Institute.

As a state, Indiana falls short of school funding adequacy, the report says, but Vigo County’s spending per student ($10,434, the report says) falls further behind than the state. State.

“A well-funded school can help put a child on the path to academic success and a healthy life – some of the pathways include smaller class sizes, increased teaching time and more competitive teacher salaries, explained Muganda. “In Indiana, school districts are spending about $76 per student per year below estimated need to support average US test scores. In the county of Vigo, the experience is similar, with [the Vigo County School Corp.] spending an average of $311 less per student than estimated need to support average US test scores.

The funding gap for schools in Vigo has narrowed over the past decade, however, Muganda added.

It’s relevant right now as voters in Vigo County decide whether to fund a $261 million reconstruction and renovation project at three county high schools and one middle school — all between the ages of 50 and 60. Vigo counties bolstered funding for local schools in 2019 by approving a $7 million referendum to support operating costs, including a much-needed salary increase for teachers at the starting level. This referendum, which would end soon after 2024 if the construction referendum passes, can help prevent young teachers from leaving their chosen field – a serious situation that directly affects children here and around Indiana.

Vigo County’s overall poor health and poor health behaviors among adults influence child well-being issues – child poverty and high burdens of child care costs – highlighted in the rankings of county health. These points connect into homes and families, and then into schools.

“Our health is influenced by things like access to health care and healthy behaviors, but our health is also influenced by things like access to a job that pays a living wage and the ability to afford housing. safe,” Stevenson said of the rankings data. said the leader of the analysis team. “Good economic conditions are essential to building healthy communities – and we see these impacts from childhood through adulthood.”

A community’s burden of child care costs reflects the health of both adults and children. In Vigo County, child care costs for a household with two school-age children would consume 24% of a typical family’s income, according to county health rankings.

“When a single household expense consumes almost a quarter of the salary, it will be difficult to access health opportunities and meet basic needs such as access to safe and stable housing, medicine and healthy food,” Muganda said. “When children living in poverty also attend underfunded schools, the barriers to health and future well-being continue to mount.”

Thank goodness for Ryves Center, Catholic Charities, their donors and volunteers, and the many other organizations that serve poor children in this community.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or

To see the ranking…

• Results for Vigo and surrounding counties, as well as other Indiana and nationwide counties, can be viewed online at To see the county of Vigo figures, go to


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