How Does Your State Rank for Children's Well-Being?
The good news is that, in general, American kids are getting better educations and leading healthier lives. The bad news is that more and more children are living in poverty, and, depending on which state they are being raised in, not necessarily able to access those better educations and healthcare.
The 25th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, which details the overall well-being of children in America, was released Tuesday morning, and the results were unsurprisingly mixed. The annual report looks at trends since 1990 and how they have affected the lives and quality of life of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.
The four categories taken into consideration are economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Mixed together these factors helped researchers glean a ranking of states where children are better and worse off overall. Highest honors went to Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa. New Mexico, Mississippi, Arizona and Nevada ranked among the lowest again. In general, the entire southern part of the country fared significantly worse than the north, as the map here shows.
Last year, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts snagged the top three spots. New Mexico and Mississippi held the bottom spots in both 2013 and 2014. Below is the entire state-by-state ranking, so you can see how your state measures up.
Some more alarming stats from the report include the fact that three million more children lived in poor families in 2012 compared to 2005. This may have something to do with the fact that three million more children live in families where no parent is employed full time than in 2008. Also notable is that the child population is growing in southern states, due to both immigration and birthrate, according to the report. Texas, North Carolina and Georgia have seen the biggest increase. The biggest decreases in child population have been in New England and the midwest: Vermont, Rhode Island and Michigan top that list.
Ready for some good news? Education has steadily, though incrementally, improved since 1990, (with the exception of schools and states which purposely misinform children with creationism instead of actual science.) The upward trend in education is partly due to the fact that 34 percent more children are attending pre-school than in 1990, thanks to state-funded programs, and the federally-funded Head Start program, which, of course, Republicans are itching to cut. Also good news is the fact that more fourth graders are attaining reading proficiency, although, a staggering 66 percent of them are not on grade level. High school graduation rates have improved over the years.
Health is also on the upswing. Generally, children are healthier, as more of them have health insurance, and children's mortality rates have dropped. Safety regulations like car seats and bike helmets have helped with mortality rates, as have medical advances, better prenatal care and delayed childbirth.
The number of children in single-parent families is up 3 percent since 2005 (now 35 percent of all children), and these children are more likely to be poor and have less access to resources. And despite Bill O'Reilly's constant alarm at teen pregnancy (particularly African American teen pregnancy, for which Beyonce is mysteriously to blame), the birth rate among teens is at a historic low. The statistic that O'Reilly might still glom onto is that it is still high among industrialized nations. (Can you say 'abstinence-only education?)
Economic inequality is taking a huge toll on children, with a widening gulf between those "growing up in strong, economically secure families and children who are not," according to the report. The weak recovery, labor market and low quality of the jobs that have been added have not helped. Child poverty increased slightly from 2009-2012, despite the "improving" economy. And, of course, the burden of economic instability falls disproportionately on children of color. "Perhaps the most striking finding is that despite tremendous gains during recent decades for children of all races and income levels, inequities among children remain deep and stubbornly persistent," reads the report. "On nearly all of the measures that we track African-American, American Indian and Latino children continued to experience negative outcomes at rates that are higher than the national average."
In short, though there have been some improvements in some areas and the report helps show policy makers what makes a positive difference in children's lives, as the foundation's president and CEO, Patrick McCarthy says: "We must do much more." If, as he points out, we can summon the "political will."
State by state ranking in overall child well-being: 2014
4. New Hampshire
6. North Dakota
8. New Jersey
17. South Dakota
26. Rhode Island
28. New York
34. North Carolina
37. West Virginia
45. South Carolina
49. New Mexico