More than 50,000 Kansas children live in areas of concentrated poverty, according to “Children Living in High Poverty, Low-Opportunity Neighborhoods,” a new KIDS COUNT® data snapshot released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“When we talk about concentrated poverty and low opportunity areas we’re talking about neighborhoods and areas of communities where more than 30 percent of the households live below poverty,” said John Wilson, Kansas Action for Children’s vice president of advocacy and incoming president. “As a result of living in poverty, there is kind of increased negative outcomes from health outcomes to economic outcomes, all kinds of different outcomes.”

This number is actually better in the last five years of measurement than the previous five, but there is still more Kansas can do, according to Wilson.

“There’s pockets in Western Kansas, if you look at areas around Hays,” said Wilson. “Southeast Kansas, near Pittsburg, and Wyandotte County, Sedgwick County, Shawnee County, even parts of Douglas County.”

The concentrated poverty figure, with its focus on neighborhoods, does not include all Kansas kids in need of economic security. According to the latest KIDS COUNT data, 104,000 Kansas children
overall lived in poverty as of 2017.

“We’ve seen from the research that stress, particularly toxic levels of stress, has an effect on the actual brain architecture, the wiring of the brain,” said Wilson. “It doesn’t necessarily create permanent
changes, but to change that wiring takes intensive supports and programs in time and money.”

One thing to do, Wilson said, would be to make it easier to draw down federal dollars connected with programs like SNAP and TANF to help alleviate some of the worst poverty situations in the state.