The percentage of San Bernardino County children at the poverty level has increased 32.1 percent between 2008 and 2011 prompting a San Francisco-based policy group to say that this trend statewide threatens California's future.

Using new statistics available last fall, The Center for the Next Generation, a non-profit think tank, found that 23 percent of California's kids are living at or below the poverty level and nearly one out of three Hispanic children are living in poverty.

"We can't honestly separate our state's economic future from current poverty rates among our kids," said Ann O'Leary, vice president and director of the Children and Families Program at the Center for Next Generation and co-author of a study released Monday.

The group is calling for a series of programs to create expanded safety net programs to help children nationwide.

Jose Z. Calderon, a professor emeritus of sociology and Chino studies at Pitzer College in Pomona, said the study comes at a time when there is a growing tension in Washington between programs for seniors, which are largely white, and economically disadvantaged children, which are primarily from minority groups.

In California, white children account for about 27 percent of children and their rate of poverty is below 10 percent, while Hispanic children, roughly 51 percent of the state total, experience a poverty rate of nearly 30 percent, the study said.

In 2008, 21.


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7 percent of Los Angeles County children fell into the guidelines of child poverty, while in 2011, the number had increased to 24.3 percent, an increase of 12.1 percent, the report said.

Just under 19 percent of San Bernardino County's children were at or below the poverty level in 2008, which increased to 24.9 percent in 2011, the study said.

Riverside County's childhood poverty rate jumped 34.4 percent, from 16.2 percent in 2008 to 21.8 percent in 2011.

The report notes that the poverty rates of seniors increased during the recession, but at a much slower rate than children.

"We've taken steps to provide our seniors with some level of assurance that they'll be cared for in their later years," O'Leary said. "California's grandparents should ask why their grandkids don't get the same treatment," O'Leary said.

The report found a correlation between education levels and childhood poverty rates; counties with the highest number of parents with college degrees also enjoy the lowest levels of childhood poverty.

Calderon said the lower education levels of Hispanics in San Bernardino and Riverside counties made them more susceptible to layoffs, hence the larger than the state average of children slipping into poverty.

"More resources need to be invested in the education of Hispanics and other minorities," Calderon said.

Among other programs, O'Leary said more state dollars need to target the "state's school districts with the highest concentrations of poor students and ensure that as California expands access to health insurance, the state also makes it easy to access other critical benefits that increase family income security, such as child care assistance, paid family leave and CalFresh (food stamps)."

"The issue of affordable quality child care is recognized by First 5 San Bernardino Commission as an important one; parents need safe affordable child care to attend school, job training or work which helps prevent the escalating childhood poverty in our county," said Karen E. Scott, First 5 San Bernardino executive director.


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