Could repurposing unemployment benefits help end poverty in Kentucky?

06/16/2017 01:52 PM

The latest national report card on the well-being of Kentucky’s children shows familiar challenges with poverty for youth in the state.

Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation for overall child well-being, according to the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report says the state has essentially stayed stagnant from where we were in 2016.

“The narrative in 2017 looks a whole lot like the narrative in 2016,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

“If you look at those sectors such as education, economic well-being and health a lot of the narratives are the same. There was good news, bad news and not a lot of news in the middle.”

The report does show continued gains in the health of children in Kentucky, but there are still challenges in Kentucky in economic well-being.

More than one in four Kentucky kids live in poverty. The state ranks 44th in the nation for child poverty, and the standing has fallen in the past several years, Brooks said.

“Poverty while always inherent and persistent in Kentucky, has worsened.”

Kentucky has 34 percent of kids living in families where neither parent has full-time, year-round employment. Kentucky also has nine percent of teens age 16 to 19 not attending school nor employed.

Brooks acknowledged he is more animated this year in how to begin to turn the trajectory of poverty. Among the solutions which “don’t blow up the budget” includes a refundable earned income tax credit, and microenterprise loans for low-income earners.

Another solution Brooks offered is the idea of “subsidized employment.”

Essentially the idea some states are looking at is a repurposing of unemployment benefits. Instead of paying individuals to stay home the states are paying 501©(3) non-profit entities and/or schools to employ those on the benefit for a couple of years, he said.

Brooks said the idea could be a win for employers, the state and those earning the benefit. Individuals on the program earn work experience and potentially a long term job while schools or non-profits receive needed helping hands, and state dollars would be expended on those being paid to work and rejoin the workforce.

“From the partners we’ve talked to in some other places, and it wouldn’t surprise your viewers there are terrific stories about that person who for whatever reason hadn’t found a job, couldn’t find a job, and didn’t find a job. They job employed and it literally changed their pathway” he said.

“If we’re not creative and we’re not cutting edge on poverty we’re not going to tackle it,” Brooks said.

Watch the full interview for more on how the state is doing in health care, education and what Kentucky Youth Advocates will be working on in the 2018 legislative session.


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