KIDS COUNT: Latest data show pre-pandemic progress – with some setbacks – for U.S. children
The latest edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book is hot off the presses and the news regarding the well-being of children in the U.S. through 2018 is mostly good – with some major caveats.
Each year, KIDS COUNT measures the well-being of children in 16 “indicators,” which one might think of as issue areas. This year, the data runs through 2018, the latest year for which complete data is available, meaning the report does not cover any downturn experienced by children due to the coronavirus pandemic (such as food scarcity). In a news release, the Casey Foundation says it plans to explore the effects of the pandemic on child well-being in a future report, “but is releasing the annual Data Book as usual to ensure legislators and other policymakers, researchers and advocates for children have the information they are customarily able to access at this time of year.”
This year’s report found that children improved nationally in 11 out of 16 indicators, essentially stayed the same in three areas, and fell further behind in two others. Among the good news to celebrate: in 2018, more parents were economically secure and lived without a high housing cost burden. More teens graduated from high school and delayed childbearing. And progress was made in the area of children’s health coverage.
The three indicators where children’s well-being essentially remained the same were young children (aged 3 and 4) who were not in school; eighth-graders not proficient in math; and children and teens (aged 10 to 17) who were overweight or obese. The two indicators where children’s well-being actually got worse were the number of low birth-weight babies and the number of children in single-parent families.
“Broadly speaking, kids nationwide experienced gains in the Economic Well-Being domain and promising-but-mixed results in the Health, Education, and Family and Community domains,” the report found. “The positive strides realized – driven by effective policies and achieved before the coronavirus pandemic – serve as an encouraging reminder that the nation can advance the substantial work now needed to improve the prospects of its youngest generation.”
But there is one broad area where the path toward progress remains blocked: closing the racial inequity gap. Although children of all races and income levels did make gains, the report found that “the nation’s racial inequities proved deep and stubbornly persistent.”
Specifically, the report noted that Black children were significantly more likely to live in single-parent families and high-poverty neighborhoods. American Indian children were almost three times more likely than the average child to lack health insurance and live in resource-limited neighborhoods. And Latinx children ran the greatest risk of not attending school when they were young and living with a head of household who lacked a high school diploma.
In some cases, geography helps determine children’s overall well-being. The report found that New England states hold two of the top three spots for overall well-being – Massachusetts ranked first and New Hampshire ranked second. (Minnesota came in third.)
Conversely, the three lowest-ranked states were in the South or Southwest – New Mexico came in last place, with Mississippi next to last, and Louisiana just before that. And overall, states in Appalachia, the Southeast and Southwest – where families have the lowest levels of incomes – dominate the bottom of the overall rankings. The report found that 16 of the bottom 18 states are from these regions (the exceptions are Alaska and California.)
In a news cycle dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, its staggering effects on the economy, and widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism, we must rely on other sources to get a sense of how our nation’s children are faring right now.The sources we do have are troubling: the Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse survey found, for example, that in households with children in which the adult responding had been laid off due to the pandemic, fully 29 percent reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the past 7 days. Nearly one-quarter of Black households with children – 23.5% – reported similarly not having enough to eat, compared to 9 percent for white households (June 4-9, 2020, Food Sufficiency, Table 3b.) But we do know that COVID-19 will not last forever, at least in terms of its current impact. We know that one day, the economy will improve.
The data that Kids Count provide show that an economy nearly a decade after the Great Recession offered opportunities for progress, but that we need a national commitment to end the racial disparities present even during the “good times.” Kids Count will guide our legislators, our academicians, our policy-makers, and our advocates to make wise choices for the generations to come.
“Having consistent, reliable data to guide our decisions will be critical as we continue seeking to ensure the well-being of children, families and communities throughout this challenging time and beyond,” says Lisa Hamilton, President and CEO of the Casey Foundation.