To the editor:

Harold Henderson asks whether the advocates at Voices for Illinois Children, who authored the widely publicized Chicago Kids Count study, can count (City File, April 22). Yes, we can count. But can this Reader writer read?

Mr. Henderson correctly notes the study found a 17 percent increase in the proportion of Chicago children living in poverty between 1979 and 1989. He claims we failed to “tell the whole truth” because the number of children in poverty declined.

The “whole truth,” however, is clearly in the report. The overall drop in city children, in fact, was cited in the first sentence of a Chicago daily newspaper’s front-page article on the report. What is significant is that while the 1980s ended with 136,000 fewer children, the total of poor children fell by less than 4,000.

The whole truth actually may be more urgent than what was reported. This is because, statewide in the past decade, the only children’s population group to increase was the segment aged 0-4. And the latest brain-development research affirms these earliest years are the most critical in shaping intelligence and predisposition to violence later on. We support an improved, comprehensive childhood program that these children, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, can count on.

Nancy Stevenson

Chief Executive Officer

Voices for Illinois Children

Harold Henderson replies:

As far as I’m concerned, one kid in poverty is too many. But for those who value their credibility, it does make a difference how you count them. Of course we need percentages: while 50 out of 100 is a problem, 50 out of 100,000 may not be. But we need real numbers as well: 50 out of 100 is a problem, but 2 out of 4–also 50 percent–may not be.

The following three statements are all true:

(1) There were 244,821 Chicago children in poverty in 1979 and 240,968 in 1989.

(2) Of all Chicago children, 28.5 percent were poor in 1979 and 33.3 percent were poor in 1989.

(3) There was a 17 percent increase in the proportion of Chicago children living in poverty between 1979 and 1989.

If you want to understand the problem, you need to know all three of these things (but especially the first two). If you want to create alarm, you choose whichever one suits your purpose and play down the other two. Voices for Illinois Children chose number three for its headliner, a percentage of a percentage, even more distant from the real numbers.

Ms. Stevenson is correct in what she says but not in what she implies. VIC’s report did include the actual numbers–in tiny-type tables toward the back of the book. It is to the credit of Tribune reporting that they wound up high in the story.