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'Kids Count' Report Paints Mixed Picture of Child Well-Being Nationwide

Children have seen improvement on measures of health and education nationally over the past five years, but indicators in economic well-being and "family and community" are still lagging, according to the annual Kids Count Data Book, released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

poverty_race_casey.jpgThe foundation uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the federal Centers for Disease Control, and other sources to track 16 indicators it links to child well-being. The latest data comes from 2013, which is just before the economic recovery fully took hold. Because of that, the authors acknowledge that the economic well-being of children may show improvement when the next data book captures information from 2014.

But the report does note that the childhood poverty rate, at 22 percent in 2013, was still higher than it was in 2008, at 18 percent. And, more children were living in areas of concentrated poverty: The report notes that in 2000, 9 percent of children lived in census tracts where the poverty rate of the total population was 30 percent or more. The percentage rose to 14 percent for the period from 2009 to 2013, a figure that comes from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Overall, children showed improvement on 10 of the 16 indicators that the foundation tracks. For example, all four measures under the "health" outcome—percentage of low-birth-weight babies, percentage of children with health insurance, child and teen deaths per 100,000 youth, and percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs—showed improvement between 2008 and 2013. 

Educationally, the percentage of 4th graders not proficient in reading dropped from 68 percent in 2007 to 66 percent in 2013. Likewise, the percentage of 8th graders not proficient in math also fell from 69 percent to 66 percent. Both indicators moved in a positive direction, according to the foundation. But the percentage of children not attending preschool rose slightly, from 53 percent in 2007-09 to 54 percent in 2011-13—the wrong direction, the foundation says. To increase accuracy, the foundation used three years of the  American Community Survey to calculate preschool enrollment percentages. 

Child Well-Being Differs by Race, Region

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The overall numbers obscure some major differences among the states, and among children of different ethnic groups, the report notes. While the national child poverty level was 22 percent in 2013, it was 39 percent for black youngsters and 37 percent for American Indian children.

Another example: 14 percent of children nationwide lived in a family where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma as of 2013. But more than 1 in 3 Hispanic children lived in such a household, as did close to 1 in 5 American Indian children.

This particular indicator is one of the few where black children showed better outcomes than the nation as a whole—13 percent of African-American children lived in a home where the head of the household does not have a high school diploma, a percentage point better than nationwide statistics.

The Kids Count Data Book also ranks individual states on child well-being indicators and for the first time in over a decade, a state outside of New England—Minnesota—was ranked number 1 for child well-being. In last year's data book, the state ranked 5th.

Minnesota benefited from long-term investments in areas such as health insurance and improving prenatal outcomes, said Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for policy reform and advocacy. "It takes a while before you see the fruits of a policy change," she said. The upper Midwest in general also was not hit as hard by the recession as other parts of the country, Speer noted.

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said "we are proud of this national distinction, and the many Minnesota teachers, parents, doctors, and others who made it possible. But our state has more work to do to narrow achievement gaps, and eliminate other troubling disparities among children."

In addition to Minnesota, the other top-ranked states for child well-being were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Vermont. The lowest-ranked states, in descending order, were Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mississippi.


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