Poverty increases in southern Chester County school districts

By FRAN MAYE

fmaye@21st-centurymedia.com

KENNETT SQUARE - Nearly 9 percent of families, or 1,903 children ages 5 to 17 live in poverty in the Kennett Consolidated, Avon Grove, Unionville-Chadds Ford and Oxford school districts. More startling, it represents a 65 percent increase in childhood poverty in southern Chester County in the past five years.

That trend is expected to continue unless action is taken to reverse it, according to a newly released report from United Way of Southern Chester County, prepared by Vickery Consulting of Oxford.

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And despite the apparent wealth in southern Chester County, the report revealed that no area has been immune to the economic downturn. Even Unionville-Chadds Ford School District saw at 231 percent increase in eligible children between 2007 and 2013, according to the report.

Chester County, ironically, is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, and the 33rd richest in all of the nation.

“These statistics reflect what our agencies feel every day,” said Carrie Freeman, chief executive officer for United Way of Southern Chester County. “The recession has put enormous pressure on our neighbors. Now more than ever we need everyone to contribute what they can to this year’s campaign.”

In the Avon Grove school district, 5.7 percent of all families with children between the ages old 5 and 17 live in poverty; in Oxford, it’s 10.6 percent; in Kennett, it’s 15 percent, and in Unionville, it’s 3.3 percent.

The report also reviewed the number of children in the area eligible for free or reduced lunches.

According to the report between the school years ending in 2007 and 2013, the percentage of public school students eligible for free or reduced price lunch changed as follows: Kennett increased from 32.4 percent to 37.6 percent; Oxford increased from 27.3 percent to 37.8 percent; Avon Grove increased from 15.7 percent to 22.1 pecent; Unionville-Chadds Ford increased from 1.6 percent to 4.2 percent. Total area student enrollment increased by 4.8 percent during the same period.

There are 85,126 people ages 16 and older within United Way of Southern Chester County’s service area. The estimated labor force in 2013 was 57,441 people, or 67.5 percent of the population ages 16 and older. There are 53,829 people employed, 3,544 people unemployed, and 27,685 people who are not in the labor force, or 32.5 percent. The unemployment rate in 2013 was 6.2 percent. Per capita income was $42,825 and median household income in southern Chester County is $92,658. The median home value is $340,583.

The report was released as United Way of Southern County prepares to launch is 2013 campaign, with a fund-raising goal of $1.25 million. Last year 32 programs received over $1 million from the United Way including two food cupboards, three after-school programs, two senior centers, health and dental clinics, support for crime victims, scholarships for daycare, emergency shelter and heat, advocacy for the disabled, and more.

“The United Way campaign is about neighbors helping neighbors,” said Freeman. “Without donations from those who can give, many of our agencies would have to close their doors. Small gifts add up.”

About 13,000 southern Chester County residents are helped every year by United Way-funded programs, with many of those programs helping people transition to independence.

“Now more than ever we need everyone to contribute what they can to this year’s campaign,” Freeman said.

United Way of Southern Chester County serves the residents of four Pennsylvania school districts: Avon Grove, Kennett, Oxford and Unionville-Chadds Ford. Contributions can be made online at www.unitedwayscc.org or mailed to United Way, 106 West State St., Kennett Square, PA 19348.