Casey Foundation to Policymakers: Don’t Backtrack on Gains for U.S. Children
Expanded access to health care and tools such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) have improved the well-being of our country’s children. That’s the conclusion of a new report issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows steady improvements in several areas of child well-being, including health care, graduation rates, fewer children living in poverty and an improvement in the employment rate of parents.
At the same time, the report shows several areas where further improvements are needed: more families are concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods and some decreases were noted in math and reading proficiency.
The report serves as both an encouragement and a warning to policy-makers: Keep doing what works, such as expanding the EITC at the state level and improving access to health care through a combination of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And don’t threaten programs that have enabled the U.S. to post gains in child well-being.
“Eight years after the most devastating recession of our lifetime, we are pleased to see some positive trends in many areas of child well-being,” said Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “As policymakers search for ideas to expand the economy and bring economic opportunity to families, I urge them not to abandon targeted public investments that are helping more people lift themselves out of poverty and gain access to health care.”
The report found that three New England states ranked in the top five for overall child well-being – New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont – followed by Minnesota and Iowa. Conversely, states in the South and Southwest ranked at the bottom. Mississippi is the lowest-ranked state, followed by New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada and Arizona.
Other findings from the report:
Economic incentives produced slight gains for families. Tax credits and more job opportunities have helped pave the path out of poverty for many families and show promise for helping to further increase mobility. The report shows that more parents are employed, fewer families are living with a significant housing cost burden and fewer children are living in poverty. While the long-awaited post-recession job growth has provided the most help, the EITC has buoyed many low-income families.
More families are living in high-poverty neighborhoods. From 2011 to 2015, 14 percent of children lived in areas where poverty rates were at or above 30 percent. Poverty has a stranglehold on parts of the United States, especially in the South and Southwest, where children face economic, health and academic challenges with few policies and investments to mitigate them.
“The U.S. continues to have one of the highest child poverty rates among all developed countries,” said Laura Speer, Associate Director of Policy Reform and Advocacy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “This unfairly burdens our young people and the nation, costing an estimated $500 billion a year in reduced economic opportunities and increased health and criminal justice-related costs.”
Children made minimal gains in education. Despite an increase in high school completion rates, academic gains among children actually fell. Sixty-eight percent of eighth graders lacked proficiency in math in 2015, up from 2009. Nearly two in three fourth graders lack reading proficiency. And attendance for prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds remains stagnant, with 53 percent not accessing these beneficial services.
The report also includes some recommendations for policymakers:
Maintain health care programs. Reaching 95 percent of U.S. children with health insurance is a tremendous achievement that should not be jeopardized. Lawmakers should continue to support programs at the state and federal level. And they should look for ways to remove systemic barriers that prevent families from enrolling their children in health care programs.
Invest in early childhood education. Science has taught us that the first few years of development can position a child for success in school and in life. Supporting early childhood education opportunities at the local, state and federal levels enables children to reach critical milestones that lead to lifetime success.
Expand programs that create economic stability for families. The EITC, at the federal level and in many states, has become a cornerstone in helping low-income families meet basic needs. In addition, offering more help with high child care costs, including federally funded vouchers and refundable tax credits, can help low-income working families better balance their financial responsibilities.
You can read the entire report here.