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Conditions 'Bleak' for Rural Children, C.D.F. Finds

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WASHINGTON--Children who live in rural areas are poorer, less healthy, less well educated, and often have less access than other children to government assistance, according to a Children's Defense Fund study.

Debunking the stereotype that the nation's poorest, most unhealthy, and most undereducated children are members of minority groups living in urban areas, the report says 14.9 million, or one-fourth of, American children living in rural areas face conditions "just as bleak and in some respects even bleaker than their metropolitan counterparts."

While rural children are more likely to be white and slightly more likely to live in two-parent homes, the report notes, only one-twelfth still live on farms, while the rest live in settings ranging from trailer camps to backwoods communities with a mix of service and manufacturing economies.

Because rural unemployment is higher, incomes tend to be lower, and government assistance is "more restrictive,'' rural children are more likely to be poor than those in other areas, the report concludes.

According to the report, rural earnings are three-fourths of metropolitan levels; welfare payments under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program are about half the metropolitan level; and 22.9 percent of rural children were poor in 1990, 2 percentage points higher than the total share of American children in poverty.

The report also notes that rural children are less likely to have health-insurance coverage than those from other regions and that rural areas have proportionately fewer doctors. As a result, it says, rural babies are more likely to be born to women who received late or no prenatal care, and 42 percent of the children in rural areas have not been to a doctor in at least a year.

The report also notes that rural households are less likely than urban ones to get federal housing assistance, contributing to overcrowding and homelessness, and that teenage birthrates tend to be higher in rural areas, accounting for 15 percent of all births, compared with 12 percent in urban areas.

Child care is also in shorter supply, it says, and rural schools are generally poorer and offer a narrower range of programs.

The report also maintains that rural teachers have less experience, training, and higher turnover rates than their urban counterparts and that student dropout rates--while on the decline-still lag behind metropolitan rates.

Call for Tax Credit

On the positive side, the report points out, rural babies are less likely than others to be born at low birthweights, and rural communities have lower homicide rates and are more likely to be deemed good places to live by residents.

Besides reiterating its call for a refundable children's tax credit that would aid all families with children, the c.D.F. calls in the report for lifting "unreasonable restrictions'' on such "safety-net programs" as Medicaid, A.F.D.C., and food stamps. It also calls for policies that would allow poor families to be reimbursed for travel to medical and social-services offices and to apply for benefits by mail.

The report also urges full funding for child-care and preschool programs and for community health centers, migrant health centers, food programs for women and infants, and the national health-service corps.

In addition, it recommends greater investment in rural schools, loan-forgiveness programs for teachers and health personnel who serve in rural areas, home-visitor and parent-education programs for isolated pregnant women and families, and more training and support for family-day-care providers.

Information on the report, "Falling by the Wayside: Children in Rural America," is available from the Children's Defense Fund, 122 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

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