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Children getting squeezed, group says

Employee benefits and debt service are cutting into the percentage of state money dedicated to children, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children.

Last year, according to the nonprofit group, the percentage of state budget money dedicated to children slipped from 32.4 percent to 30.6 percent. At the same time, the advocacy group said during its 15th annual budget forum in Hartford, child poverty reached an all-time high in Connecticut.

The group is calling on legislators to make new investments in children's health and education, acknowledging the state has increased spending in these areas over the past five years but saying the money has not kept pace with rising needs.

Connecticut Voices also decried "statewide wage and poverty gaps by race (that) are wider than they were pre-recession and economic segregation (that) has left many cities grappling with high poverty, high unemployment and incomes that do not support a family's most basic needs."

In Hartford, for instance, nearly half of all children live in poverty. In New London, more than a third of children are equally underprivileged, more than double the statewide average of 15 percent.

To deal with disparities, the group is pushing for reforms such as a statewide property tax and low-income circuit-breaker, the latter of which can limit levies to a certain percentage of a homeowner's income.

“Young people today will be the workers and leaders who power Connecticut’s economy tomorrow, so it is important that all children have a fair chance to succeed," said Sharon Langer, the organization's acting executive director. "Educational opportunity is greatly affected by a child’s race and ZIP code and families are struggling with an economic recovery that has left many behind.”

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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