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From Times News:

Half of northwestern Pennsylvania's youngest children are members of poor or low-income families, according to a study released by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children this week.

And that could have a profound effect on their health, education and prospects of prospering as adults, said Kathy Geller Myers, spokeswoman for the Harrisburg-based partnership, an advocacy group that promotes the health, education and well-being of children.

"Children from low-income families are likely to have poor nutrition, chronic health problems and fewer educational opportunities, and because of that are poorly prepared for school and for the education that they need to succeed in life," Myers said.

Half of the preschool-aged children in Erie and Crawford counties will have to overcome those obstacles to succeed, according to the new "School Readiness in Pennsylvania 2010" study released Wednesday.

In Erie County, 47.1 percent of children younger than 5 were members of poor or low-income families in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available.

That's up from 43 percent in 2000.

More than half of Crawford County preschool-aged children -- 51.1 percent -- were members of low-income families in 2008. That's a slight improvement from 2000, when 53.7 percent of young children lived in low-income homes.

Statewide in 2008, almost 40 percent of young children were members of poor or low-income families.

The study defines low-income as $44,100 for a family of four. Poverty level for a family of four is $22,050, according to federal guidelines.

The findings are "disheartening" but not surprising, said Laura Lewis, of Erie Together, a community initiative to fight poverty.

"There are people who have been well aware for a long time that poverty is a major issue here. There's been a call to action, and we are making progress in addressing poverty," said Lewis, who is chairwoman of the social work/sociology department at Mercyhurst College.

Erie Together is looking at ways to ensure all children are ready for school. One way to do that will be to provide more quality preschool opportunities for children of all income levels, Lewis said.

"The number of children living in poverty and in low-income homes is disheartening, but I think that a lot of people are coming together to help children and families, largely by aligning services and resources that we already have," Lewis said.

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