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Poverty rates increase in St. Croix County

St. Croix County has been identified as one of the 47 counties in Wisconsin to have a significant increase in children living in poverty.

According to numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 8.7 percent of the New Richmond School District's youth (ages 5-17) are living in poverty - defined as a family of four living with an income less than $22,350.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's numbers, 284 of the district's 3,246 kids are living in poverty. The poverty rate has been steadily increasing since 2007, when the level was at the 4.5 percent mark.

Karen Brummer, director of food services for the district, said the number of students qualifying for free and reduced meals reflects the poverty numbers.

As of October, 34 percent of New Richmond students qualified for free/reduced lunches, Brummer said. That's compared to 30 percent during the 2010-11 school year and 25 percent during the 2009-10 school year.

Qualifying students are identified by the state, she said.

This year, to qualify for the free/reduced lunches, a family of four must make no more than $41,348.

"Those income guidelines are adjusted every year," Brummer said. "They're always changing to reflect the increase in cost of living."

"The economic downturn continues to affect our children and their families and increased poverty is not limited to one area or school district in Wisconsin," said State Superintendent Tony Evers. "Children living in poverty have less access to health and dental care, and may be in families where keeping enough to eat or even maintaining a home or apartment is a pervasive challenge. This makes learning much more difficult."

While the free/reduced lunch numbers are ever increasing, Brummer said it's not having a negative impact on the district's budget.

"We get federal money, state money and local money from those enrolled in the program," she said. "We have to take into account the food, labor, equipment and supplies but our goal is to break even, which we do. We've not gone in the negative since I've been here and I've been here for 17 years."

The 2010 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) data are available for 3,142 counties and nearly 14,000 Title I-eligible school districts in the country. At Somerset, 7.3 percent (127 of the 1,730) of students are living in poverty; at St. Croix Central, 8.5 percent (130 of the 1,537) are living in poverty. The data represent the only current, single-year income and poverty estimates available for all sizes of counties and school districts. While these estimates are released annually, 2007 was chosen by the U.S. Census Bureau for comparison because it was a pre-recessionary year.