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One in five Berrien County children lives below poverty line

Published 7:51pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Although the number of children in Berrien County living in poverty has declined slightly since 2005, about one in five still are living below the poverty line, according to the annual Kids Count in Michigan Data Book.

That should be a wake-up call to the community, according to Amanda Williamson, director of the Berrien County Great Start Collaborative.

“It’s very startling and scary,” she said of the study done by the Michigan League for Human Services.

Great Start Collaborative is designed to  encourage student success in school, and it’s statistics like these that make that goal a huge challenge, Williamson said.

“If you’re living in poverty, you’re more worried about your next meal or where you’re going to live,” she said. “School is not the top priority for these families.”

Williamson said the “aftereffects of the economy” are still taking a toll on many Berrien County families.

“We still have a 12.3 percent unemployment rate for this county,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of families that are unemployed or working minimum-wage jobs that just aren’t cutting it.”

Williamson said she also is concerned about  the infant mortality rate in Berrien County. At nine deaths per 1,000 infants, Berrien County ranks 42nd out of 49 counties in the study.

Williamson said much of the problem can be solved through education of parents.

“We need to promote safe sleep,” she said. “Many are passing away because of unsafe sleeping conditions, like sleeping in bed with parents or having blankets and stuffed animals in the bed.”

Berrien County’s worst ranking was 70th out of 82 counties in births to teenagers ages 15 to 19. Still, the county’s rate of 48 births per 1,000 teens is down from 64.1 a decade ago, a strong improvement.

The annual data book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project, a collaboration between the Michigan League for Human Service and Michigan’s Children. Both are nonprofit advocacy organizations.

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