Real Poverty, Real Problems: Poverty Impacts Knox County Youth

February 20, 2014

In December, the Kentucky Youth Advocates released the KIDS COUNT County Data Book for Kentucky. The data book is a part of a study conducted by the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. It is no shock that 1 out of every 4 children in Kentucky live in poverty. Did you realize that the poverty rate in Knox County is nearly double the statewide average? According to the study approximately 1 out of every 2 students live in a household with incomes below poverty level. Knox County was ranked 116th (of Kentucky’s 120 counties) for overall child wellbeing for the entire state. Neighboring Counties Bell, Clay, and Harlan also did not score well, ranking 113th, 120th, and 106th respectively.

The study focused on four key areas: economic security, education, health, and family and community. Economic security results were based upon four key areas: number of children living in poverty, teens who are not enrolled in school and are not working, parental employment rate, and higher home rental burden. Statewide, only Martin County had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than Knox County, at an estimated 56.3 percent. It was calculated that 65% of Knox County residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs to include rent or mortgage and utilities.
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Ultimately, Knox was ranked 117th for economic security in this study. The study also raised a number of issues about the existing Social Security benefits system. For example, the majority of families claimed to be unaware of provisions for children and Social Security survivors benefits that can be claimed by bereaved families. A similar sense of confusion also seems to surround eligibility for Social Security Disability payments. In case you were not already aware, in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have held qualifying employment for a certain period of time.
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Moreover, as the resources on the Crest SSD website explain, in addition to work credits, you must also be able to prove that you suffer from a totally disabling condition that prevents you from working. Consequently, more resources need to be made available that can point vulnerable families in the direction of financial support during times of crisis. Financial problems can be worrying and people can often be too embarassed to look for help. However, there is always help and advice available. For example, those who require help can seek support. Those needing advice could get advice on saving or even investing. For families who want more financial security, there is always the option of investing in cryptocurrencies. Perhaps some people could even look into getting a Mycelium Wallet to manage their Bitcoin. This could help families to have more financial stability in the future.

The education rankings were rated using the percentage of children enrolled in preschool, 4th graders’ proficiency in reading, 8th graders’ proficiency math, and percentage of high school students graduating on time. These four factors placed Knox County 120th in the education rankings. The numbers are not based solely upon Knox County Public School students, but also included Barbourville Independent and Corbin Independent students. Kentucky public preschool programs have rigid requirements for enrollment. Three year olds must have a demonstrated disability or developmental delay to enroll in a County preschool program, while four year olds without disabilities or delays must meet income requirements. Head Start has similar but less rigid requirements, yet 80% of 3 and 4 year olds in Knox County are not enrolled in a preschool program. Knox County School District Preschool Coordinator Charlotte McCoy stated that, “In more affluent counties such as Oldham County, parents pay for private preschool for the children who do not qualify for public preschool. In Knox County, where the poverty rate is much higher, the parents are not able to afford the luxury of private preschool.” It can be difficult for children to catch up to other students when they essentially start behind. McCoy further stated that, “Research such as the Perry Preschool Project has shown that a quality preschool program has a significant impact on future educational success. Preschool addresses the five domains of child development: social, cognitive, adaptive, motor, and communication.
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Any potential delays in the five developmental domains are usually already identified and the child has already began to receive intervention in preschool for the delays.” Children who are given access to preschool programs are better prepared to start kindergarten. The only solution is expanded preschool access; the majority of Knox County families are unable to pay for preschool programs.

While nearly 66% of 4th graders were not proficient in reading, and 72% of 8th graders were not proficient in math, the study pointed out that on-time high school graduation rates were much higher than expected. Roughly 12% of Knox County high school students did not graduate on time, which is a much smaller percentage compared to many other counties with greater reading and math proficiencies. This implies that either students are making significant improvements in high school, or students are graduating with minimal proficiency. The result is students are unprepared to successfully start college and require remedial coursework if they even enroll.

The highest ranking for Knox came in the category of health with a rank of 87th in that category. While the Knox County teen pregnancy rate is still very high compared to other counties, and an estimated 38% of women smoked during her pregnancy; Knox children fared better in other subcategories of health. Enough struggling women were able to go to a pregnancy center to help with their unplanned pregnancy. County wide there were fewer low-birthweight babies and fewer childhood asthma-related hospital admissions. Bell County had one of the highest rates for childhood inpatient hospitalizations for asthma related symptoms.

The final category of the study was Family and Community. Knox County ranked 107th. Factors taken into account were: percentage of children living in a high poverty area, percentage of birth mothers having a high school degree, number of children living with someone other than a first degree relative, and youth incarceration rates. All children in Knox County regardless of family income live in a high poverty area. Knox County Public School District falls under a Community Eligibility Option for free breakfast and lunch. This helps local families by ensuring that school age children receive two healthy meals a day during the school year, and allowing parents to stretch their food budget.
Data for the entire U.S. is available at The site enables users to access data not included on the study, and you can view countywide data as well as data by school district. The Kentucky data is available in PDF format on the web at
The statistics are disparaging. What does the future hold for the children of Knox County?