03 Oct Dire Stats Presented on Newport Children
A group of state and local officials, along with nonprofit and charity leaders, gathered at the Bank Newport administrative building in Middletown on Oct. 1 to hear a presentation by the nonprofit research and policy organization Rhode Island Kids Count, followed by a community discussion on ways to improve the lives of Newport’s children.
For Newport, the findings were bleak, showing the city near the top of the list of children living at or below the poverty line, those suffering from health ailments related to environmental factors, and the percentage of children who were victims of child abuse or neglect.
The presentation was facilitated along with the Newport Partnership for Families and sponsored by Bank Newport. The event was part of the group’s “Data in Your Backyard” series, when Kids Count representatives travel to cities and towns in the state to unveil the most recent findings that make up their annual factbook that includes data on the health, safety, education and economic well-being of youth.
Newport’s percentage of children living in poverty stands at 21 percent (fifth in the state), eclipsing the statewide average of 18.9 percent. Aquidneck Island’s remaining communities, Middletown and Portsmouth, stand at 12.5 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively.
Child poverty is defined as living in a family of three with a household income of $20,231, or a family of four with an income of $25,465. The Economic Progress Institute, which releases economic security analysis every two years, found that in Rhode Island a single-parent family with two children needs an after-tax income of $55,115 to meet basic needs.
“We know many of our families in Newport and our state as a whole are not making those kinds of incomes,” said Stephanie Geller, policy analyst for Kids Count. “There is [also] a big number of families who are over the poverty level but are still really struggling to meet basic needs. We need to make sure we focus on those families as well.”
Newport also placed fifth in Rhode Island for reports of abuse and neglect victims per 1,000 children, standing at 22.8 percent. The statewide average is 14.6 percent. However, Geller highlighted Newport’s efforts in reducing those numbers.
“Five years ago, Newport had the highest child abuse [percentages] in the state. It was an alarm bell …. we had known there was an issue for a long time,” she said. “Of course, we need to do more. We need to think about who these children are. About 80 percent of child abuse victims are neglect victims connected to a lack of economic resources.
“Families are making hard choices, such as leaving their children unsupervised,” she said. “They may not have adequate housing, food or healthcare.”
The data also shows a significant shift in the demographic makeup of Newport’s child population, most notably the decrease of children identified as white (down 31 percent) or black (down 39 percent), and a sharp uptick in the Hispanic and Latino population (up 17 percent). Newport’s child population overall declined 21 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Geller pointed out that some of the numbers she was presenting, such as child demographics, are gleaned from data ending in 2010, the year of the last census. She acknowledged that certain trends that have continued since that time could show even higher numbers after the upcoming 2020 census data is made available. Numbers from the Rhode Island Department of Education show an increase in Newport’s English-language learners from 7 percent in 2014 to 11 percent in 2018. The statewide average is 9 percent.
While discussing the demographic shift, Supt. Colleen Burns Jermain provided the city’s most recent breakdown, which showed 39 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 20 percent black, 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 4 percent Native American.
Geller pointed out that Newport had the largest decline in child population between 2000 and 2010 in the state.
“It will be interesting to see in 2020 if things are continuing in that direction [and] we are continuing to see a decline in the number of children,” she said. “We are seeing a change in the diversity of the community, as well as a decline in population. It is important to think about as we work together to make sure the needs of all of our children are met.”
The number of non-English speaking students in any school district is a vital statistic, especially in regard to education budgets affected by state mandates requiring a certain number of ELL instructors per number of students.
Officials is Newport and Middletown have made clear their desire to see a change in the statewide funding formula next year when the legislature is expected to make revisions.
Rep. Lauren Carson (D-Newport), who was in attendance, said that the specifics of any change to state funding for local education were still undefined. But the data showed that the perception among many of Newport as a wealthy seaside oasis protected from issues facing other cities was unfounded.
“Folks outside of Newport often don’t really understand the demographics,” she said. “We have very rich people and we have very poor people. We have the highest percentage of low-income housing in the state. As a result, we have those very serious urban problems. It’s often very difficult for me to articulate that to my colleagues [at the State House]. They think of Newport as Ocean Drive. That’s not the case.”
Other Kids Count 2019 snapshots included:
Student mobility, defined as students who enrolled after Sept. 30 or withdrew before June 1, is at 13 percent in the state and 18 percent in Newport;
The percentage of Newport children who are overweight and obese is 26 percent;
The percentage of Newport third-graders “meeting expectations in English language arts” is at 26 percent, compared to 40 percent statewide;
The percentage of Newport eighth-graders “meeting expectations in math” is at 15 percent, compared to 23 percent statewide.
To view the 2019 Kids Count Factbook, visit rikidscount.org.