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Monday, February 26, 2024


Dec. 11, 2001 – A study released Tuesday by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands shows that nearly 40 percent of the children in the territory — and nearly 50 percent on St. Croix — are living below the federal poverty level.
The child poverty rate, defined as a family of four living on less than $16,660 a year, is twice as high in the Virgin Islands as the national rate of about 20 percent. And that doesn't take into account the higher cost of living in the Virgin Islands, meaning the rate in the territory is probably higher than the statistics indicate.
The findings on child poverty are included in the 2001 Kids Count study released on Tuesday. Funded by the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, the study looks at key social and economic indicators that affect children's lives, such as family income level, numbers of persons living in single-family households, number of school dropouts, infant mortality and numbers of babies born to girls between the ages of 15 and 17.
This year's Kids Count report covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands and is based on data compiled in 1998. The 2001 report is the second to include the Virgin Islands, and Community Foundation officials said they plan to continue taking part in the study, as it provides statistics that indicate where some of the most serious problems impacting the territory's children lie.
"This report is not about blame," Alda Monsanto, Community Foundation vice president, said Tuesday. "There's enough blame to go around. We see this report as a tool for change." She added, "I would not want to come back next year with the third Kids Count, and see that it's the same story."
The study findings indicate that about 47 percent of the children on St. Croix are living below the poverty level, while the number is about 33 percent in the St. Thomas-St. John district. The figures average out to 39.7 percent territorywide.
The percentage of children living below the poverty line has grown in the territory since 1994, when 34.6 percent were in that category, the Kids Count report states.
Dee Baecher-Brown, Community Foundation executive director, said the increase in child poverty in the Virgin Islands has come at a time of unprecedented economic gains nationwide.
The study found that about 50 percent of the children on St. John and on St. Croix live with a single female parent, and 36 percent do so on St. Thomas. Territorywide, the figure is 42 percent, compared with a national average of 27 percent.
About 36 percent of the territory's children live in married-couple families.
"There's no surprise that 40 percent of our children live in poverty, and 40 percent live in a single-parent home," said Richard Brown, a leader of the Community Foundation's Fatherhood initiative. He said the two statistics are intricately linked. "If we cure this issue of father absences, we cure this problem of child poverty," he said.
Among the other findings of the study:
– Of the Virgin Islands 1998 population of 111,000, about 36,600, or 32 percent, were children.
– In the 1997-1998 school year, 508 children dropped out of the territory's high schools; that was nearly twice as many as in the previous year. The dropout rate was about twice as high on St. Croix as in the St. Thomas-St. John district.
– The median family income in the Virgin Islands for 1998 was estimated at $31,018; the median income nationwide was $45,600.
– The rate of teen-age girls giving birth was 34 per 1,000, slightly above the national rate of 30 per 1,000. The rate of teen births fell steadily in the territory from 1995 to 1998.
– Infant mortality in the Virgin Islands also has been dropping steadily — from 13.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1995 to 9.9 per 1,000 in 1998. That is still above the 1998 national average of 7.2 per 1,000.
One ray of hope may lie in comparing this year's report for the Virgin Islands with that of a year ago. That study, based on 1997 data, found that 41 percent of V.I. children lived below the poverty line, compared to 39.7 percent this time. And the 2000 Kids Count report showed 44 percent of children living in single-family households, compared with 42 percent this time.
The 2001 study report does not include recommendations on how to address the many problems impacting on the territory's children. But speakers at a presentation of the study findings Tuesday suggested these: greater focus on the role of fathers in their children's lives, an increase in the minimum wage to help workers who struggle to make ends meet by holding two or three jobs, improving aspects of education to motivate kids to stay in school, and greater involvement of children, families and supporters and in community activities.
Several persons called the study findings a wake-up call to address the needs of children and the future of the territory.
"The study confirms and quantifies the dire conditions of youth in the territory, particularly St. Croix," Winona Hendricks of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority said. "If the results are not addressed, we will summarily allow children to coexist in a world of growing despair."
For further information about the 2001 Kids Count report, send an e-mail request to the Community Foundation of the V.I.

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