TERRE HAUTE —
This community offers lots of convincing reasons for people to call it “home.”
The city and county parks, from Deming to Prairie Creek. The college campuses, and the energy their students inject into Terre Haute. Music, from the Blues at the Crossroads Festival to the symphony. Active churches, both historic and modern. Strong public schools. A top-flight library. The Arts Corridor. Diverse restaurants. Bookstores with variety. Coffeehouses with personality. A spirit of volunteerism. Affordable housing. Relative safety, peace and quiet.
The good life surrounds us here.
Yet, it’s so hard to see “Terre Haute” and “Vigo County” consistently positioned at or near the top of Indiana child-poverty rankings.
It happened again this month. The annual Kids Count survey, produced by the respected Annie E. Casey Foundation, analyzed 16 areas of child well-being on national, state and local levels. The study accounted for health care, household and community situations, education and economic factors. This year, Indiana ranked a lowly 31st among the 50 states, overall. In specific categories, Indiana rated 36th in education (most Hoosier kids, 61 percent, don’t attend preschool), and 34th in health. Statewide, 21.6 percent of children under age 18 live in poverty.
The predicament is even more troubling locally.
According to those latest Kids Count figures, 27 percent of school-age youngsters in Vigo County live below the poverty level. That family-income line is set at just $22,113. Despite that low threshold, this college community blessed with five higher learning institutions ranks 81st out of 92 Indiana counties.
The bottom end of child-poverty statistics is familiar territory for Vigo County. In a report by the Indiana Commission on Childhood Poverty released last December, Vigo County shouldered the state’s highest poverty rate for kids at 28.7 percent. That number matters. A lot. Health-care costs are high for youths lacking proper nutrition and preventive medical attention. Children living in poverty, on average, begin their school careers with fewer academic skills, and may require years of remediation. The long-term ramifications, especially for teenagers who wind up dropping out of school, include a greater tendency to commit crimes and to live as adults in poverty.
In many cases, parents earning incomes below the poverty line are working long hours or multiple jobs in this tough economy. (According to the commission, 1 out of 3 kids in Indiana lives in low-income working families.) But low incomes here are even lower than in many Hoosier communities.
In 2009, the Legislature created the commission to evaluate the costs and effects of childhood poverty. Lawmakers also asked the commission to formulate a plan to cut the childhood poverty rate in half by 2020. The commission worked through 2010 and 2011, conducting public forums around the state. It issued its report and 26 recommendations on New Year’s Eve.
The Legislature, altered by the 2010 elections, focused on other pressing matters last spring, such as right-to-work and immigration, rather than childhood poverty.
“It was not a good time for the report to come out, given all the other agendas in the General Assembly,” said Michael Patchner, the dean of the Indiana University School of Social Work and chairman of the commission.
The coming legislative session may not be any more welcoming. The author of the bill that created the commission, Rep. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, doesn’t expect the panel’s 26 recommendations — two of which are building a statewide database on poverty issues and funding for early-childhood literacy programs — to see much action in 2013.
“I think the trend is away from more government services and more government intervention,” Kruse said by telephone Wednesday. State and federal programs already in place serve kids in poverty, he added.
Yet the problem persists.
The response falls, then, to local communities, and Vigo County schools (where more than half of the students in the corporation receive free or reduced-price lunches), service groups, charities and churches already address the fallout of kids growing up needy. They understand the day-to-day complications in a city in which the median household income is $31,117 — well below the state median of $47,697, and even farther under the national median of $51,914.
The problem, though, isn’t always seen by everyone else.
“I think poverty is often hidden,” Patchner said.
Let’s all keep looking more closely.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
This community offers lots of convincing reasons for people to call it “home.”
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
MARK BENNETT: Waltman succeeded where others dared not tread
Royce Waltman sensed the “we’ve-heard-this-before” skepticism in my voice.
MARK BENNETT: Volunteers’ cleanup efforts key to river’s future role in community
People throw all kinds of garbage into and along the Wabash River, aiming to make their used-up stuff disappear from their lives.
MARK BENNETT: Are you up for high-paying jobs and wide open spaces?
Admit it. You’ve daydreamed about it.
Yes, North Dakota. There must be something in the water (or ice) up there, you figure. What else would explain the Peace Garden state topping all those “best in the nation” rankings?
MARK BENNETT: Breaking down the Billion Dollar Bracket
Guts, graphite and glory.
The night it rained tears
March fuels college basketball teams. Fun, glory, buzzer-beater shots and storybook endings in the NCAA Tournament await there.
MARK BENNETT: First BaconFest sure to cure your salty fried meat cravings
Bacon taught me a life lesson.
I wrapped strips of it around chicken livers and secured the cold, gooey bundles with toothpicks to earn money.
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: City sparkles during premiere of ‘The Drunk’
William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner cast their hometown in a starring role in their debut effort as filmmakers.
MARK BENNETT: ‘Notes on a River’ exhibition brings Wabash scenes to gallery
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
You’ll need a broom, a pickup truck, trash bins, shop hooks and aspirin.
Filming a “Sanford and Son” remake? Preparing for the apocalypse?
MARK BENNETT: Illinois officials content their state has its business advantages, too
Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification
Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.
“That is illogical,” he’d say.
MARK BENNETT: Young at heart
Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
Debs film to debut at Indiana Theatre
Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
MARK BENNETT: Album turns memories into musical Christmas message for Terre Haute’s Dave Frey, band
In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
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