Beverly Williams and her mother sat on the sidewalk and ate some Lunchables out of their grocery bags before they walked to the bus stop. Williams is a single teen mom and says buying food and clothes is tough.
"You’ll get one thing and will look at the price and then see something that's a little bit cheaper,” said Williams. “I’m like forget this, forget shopping, I’ll just go to the 99-cent store.”
She says she receives food stamps and other assistance, but it’s not enough to cover all of her baby’s expenses. She lives with her mom, who is also a single parent. Their rent is around $600, and their electric bill is about $200.
"It’s a struggle. I run out of food towards the end of the month,” said Cynthia Schmidt, Williams' mother. “It’s a hard economy out there, and it doesn’t help when you’re raising kids alone and the prices of food are skyrocketing.”
So many people in Kern County share their struggles. The Kern County Network for Children says one out of four families with children lives below the poverty line, which means about 80,000 kids are in need. The group released its annual report card rating children's quality of life.
"The report card shows that we still have a lot of challenges in our community,” said Stephen Pelz, President of the Kern County Network for Children. “The economy is struggling. There are a lot of families in need and are really having a difficult time, but it also shows the amazing progress we made as a community.”
The report shows Kern's teen birth rate and foster youth population dropped. It also reveals 4,372 children were victims of abuse. More than half of Kern's children in poverty are raised by single moms, six in ten Kern students are overweight, and five children died last year from abuse or neglect, all under the age of three. Seven out of ten kids receive free or reduced school lunches, which is an all-time high for the county.
The Network for Children is a collaborative of dozens of county agencies from Mental Health to Child Protective Services and law enforcement. More than 100 of them met downtown for the network’s event called "Caring for Others and Ourselves.”
Ashely Lawrence is a single mom. She says her sister is unemployed and having a difficult time keeping food on the table, so Lawrence bought groceries for her and her two kids. "I had to help make ends meet. You come together as a family when times are tough," she said.
Williams is applying for a work permit. Her mom doesn't work and is disabled, and she wants to buy nice clothes for her baby girl.
"I have three applications, and I’m trying to get a job to support my daughter," she said.
If you'd like to see the full report card, you can log onto www.kcnc.org/reportcard