Report: More Philly children living in poverty

Although Philadelphia largely has rebounded from the Great Recession, the economic status of the city's youngest residents has not kept pace.

A new report on child wellness by Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) released Monday found the number of children living in poverty in the city has grown by 16 percent since 2008.

"Philadelphia has long had the unfortunate distinction of having the highest child poverty rate of any large city in the country," PCCY said in "Left Out: The Status of Children in Philadelphia."

"The problem intensified during the recession, as the child poverty rate rose from an already too high rate of 31.5 percent in 2008 to 36.9 percent in 2014."

PCCY found the increase continued in 2015 when 38.3 percent of the city's approximately 342,000 children- 130,800 - were living in poverty compared with 17.9 percent of seniors.

And the racial disparities are stark. Fifty-eight percent of low-income families in Philadelphia are black, 22 percent are white, and 20 percent are Hispanic, the report said.

Donna Cooper, PCCY's executive director, said at a forum at Philadelphia Media Network's office at 801 Market St. on Monday that one reason seniors had rebounded more quickly was that the government had provided programs and services to help cushion the economic blow.

"We believe that good public policy, were it in place, would protect and strengthen children," Cooper said.

The report was the latest in the nonprofit child advocacy organization's effort to assess how city children have fared since the recession of 2008. PCCY has studied each of the four suburban counties.

"In every county but Montgomery County, there are more children today in poverty than in the depths of the recession," Cooper said.

Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi, who was one of the panelists, said that although progress has been made and that real median income rose by 5 percent last year, the most vulnerable had not shared the growth. He said it was a good time to make changes for them.

Besides weighing the economic status of children, PCCY also examined their health, early childhood, and K-12 education in the city.

PCCY found that 96 percent of children in Philadelphia were covered by health insurance, including Medicaid. But while the federal government requires children on Medicaid to be tested for exposure to lead two times before the age of 3, an alarming rate - 70 percent - of city children had not been tested, the report said.

The number of 3- and 4-year-olds receiving high-quality preschool education has improved, which is critical for later success in school for low-income students.

Still, only 30 percent of children eligible for publicly funded pre-K were able to enroll during the last fiscal year because there were not enough seats.

"Funds from the recently enacted tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will dramatically expand quality slots, but that alone will not ensure universal access," the report said, referring to the Kenney administration's plan to expand preschool opportunities in the city.

PCCY also said academic trends in K-12 education "were going in the wrong direction." Only about half the city students in district and charter schools were on grade level in reading and math in 2014 - fewer than in 2008.

The report makes several recommendations for improving the chances for city children, including raising the minimum wage to boost family incomes; expanding health care coverage to undocumented children; ensuring more youngsters are tested for lead exposure; and pressing the state to adequately fund public schools under the newly adopted Basic Education Funding Formula.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789 @marwooda