Jasia Flowers Kelan Lyons / CT Mirror

Jasia Flowers had shackles around her wrists and ankles the first time she heard her unborn child’s heartbeat. Only 15, and a recent high school drop-out who had been arrested for missing a court date, Flowers had been in and out of the state’s foster care system her whole life.

“At the point I had my daughter, I was a complete juvenile delinquent,” Flowers recalled.

Now 26, Flowers is a manager at the Hartford Courant’s newspaper warehouse. Standing beside her daughter, Flowers issued a warning to the policymakers and researchers gathered at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday afternoon for the unveiling of data that shows more Connecticut children are living in poverty than 30 years ago.

Despite improvements in teen birth rates and child health insurance rates, more Connecticut children are living in single parent families and households that pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, according to the 2019 Kids Count Data Book, an annual report on children’s wellbeing throughout the country.

“We have to be aware of the struggles of children in poverty,” Flowers said, “and the pathology that certain types of trauma might have on generations of families.”

The trend graphic above shows Connecticut child poverty data from 2008-2017. Annie E. Casey Foundation

The study, conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, scores states on four indicators: family and community, health, education and economic well-being, the category in which Connecticut scored most poorly.

“We have fallen precipitously in this way, from being in the top tier 30 years ago, to being in the second lowest tier,” said Sheryl Horowitz, chief research and evaluation officer for the Connecticut Association for Human Services, which presented the date Tuesday. “More children are living in poverty, more families have no parent with secure employment and many families have high housing costs burdens.”

The state’s high ranking— number eight overall — masks significant racial and ethnic disparities, advocates said. Poverty rates of white children stayed relatively stable, between 4 and 6 percent, between 2005 and 2017, while those for black and Latino children fluctuated between 20 and 34 percent. The data also shows that one in five black children, and one in five Latino youth, live in concentrated poverty, compared to one in 100 white children.

“When adults cannot provide stable economic conditions for their families, it certainly impacts multiple indicators across the continuum, including the health, safety and well-being of our kids, whose future success is at stake,” said Rep. Robin Comey, D-Branford.

Jasia Flowers Kelan Lyons / CT Mirror

Flowers, who was raised by a mother who herself was a ward of the state, moved to Middletown after having her daughter. What saved her, she said, was her own love of learning.

“I was smoking, I was drinking, but all the while I still kept reading because that was my obsession,” said Flowers. “I loved books, and I collected them.”

Flowers earned a GED in October 2010. She and her child took classes at the same time, thanks to the Middletown Even Start Family Literacy Program, which Flowers said, “changed my life. They removed my barriers and provided help to me because I wanted to succeed.”

Rep. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, who is co-chairman of the legislature’s education committee, said lawmakers must do more to ensure Connecticut residents have equal opportunity to succeed.

“Talent is universal, but opportunity isn’t,” said McCrory, after seeing the presentation and listening to Flowers’ story. “I know what I’m going to do for the next two or three months. We have to have a conversation around untreated trauma in our communities, and access to the supports.”

There is a litany of research that shows poverty is bad for children, said Merrill Gay, the executive director of CT Early Childhood Alliance.

“We’ve seen 30 years of data here in Connecticut that shows that we really have not made a difference in child poverty,” Gay said. “And one of the reasons might be the fact that 1% of white children live in communities where there’s concentrated poverty. As a state that’s largely been run by white people, it’s been easy to overlook the problem.”

While the aggregate data makes Connecticut look like it’s one of the best places in the country to raise children, Gay added, upon closer inspection it’s clear that racial and ethnic disparities exist.

“We now need to get serious about closing those disparities,” Gay said, calling for legislators to expand childcare options for low-income parents going to school. “We need to now use the data and work together to come up with some solutions.”

Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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  1. Race and the number of single-parent households

    Published Aug 2012 – the Annie E. Casey Foundation defined “children in single-parent families” as kids under 18 who live with their own single parent; it includes children living with a parent and a cohabiting adult, but it does not include children living with married step-parents):

    White (non-hispanic) 25%
    Hispanic 42%
    Blacks (non-hispanic) 67%

    Maybe if the Black and Latino children had both parents in the same home they would not be so deep into repeated generational poverty and the children would grow up in more stable households, finding more opportunities in life?

    Could it really be that simple – maybe it’s not racial at all but cultural? Or does this mean that Whites see the value in raising children in dual-parent households more than Black or Latinos?

  2. “Talent is universal, but opportunity isn’t,” said McCrory.

    That statement is absolute nonsense. Talent, for the vast majority of Americans is earned and is NOT universal. Almost all of us ARE BORN with NO talent, however we develop it through determination, our role models examples, experiences and education. Education is obviously important but alone does not guarantee success, our individual choices usual do. The most important choice is becoming a parent in the first place.

  3. “More children are living in poverty, more families have no parent with secure employment and many families have high housing costs burdens.”

    Property Taxes in every town, and city in the State of Connecticut are “robbing” low and middle income families of their disposable income. In many cases Property Taxes can consume anywhere from 5% – 25% of disposable income. For low income homeowners and elderly citizens solely dependent on Social Security this Property Tax Penalty percentage can be even greater. The Cost of Education and Municipal Worker Benefits is the primary driver for this tax in most towns and cities. Fix the Cost of Education and onerous Regressive Property Taxes, and you fix a large contributor to Poverty in the State of Connecticut.

  4. The left will simply ignored the failure of 30 years of social engineering and billions spent on ever expanding social programs. They will also ignore the obvious reasons for this failure… Guess a village CANNOT raise your child!

  5. CT lacks middle class cities. How can low income minorities or whites prosper in cities that remain wards of the State. CT leaders have shown little interest in creating viable middle class cities. Bridgeport is a good example. A City where hospitals are the largest employers followed by City Hall. That once was among the nation’s foremost industrial cities.

    In America black single parent families with young mothers living at the poverty level are the legacy of slavery that destroyed black family culture and families. But poverty need not be destiny. Curiously single parent black families in Africa are uncommon despite low per capita levels of income. So culture matters. Without trying different approaches to change single parent culture we’ll not make much progress.

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