Over the past decade, the economic well-being of low-income children has returned to the same level as the early 1990s, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.
According to the foundation's annual KIDS COUNT Data Book (88 pages, PDF), the official child poverty rate — a conservative measure of economic hardship — increased some 18 percent from 2000 to 2009, which means the number of children living in poverty grew by 2.4 million during the decade. While the Data Book found that five of the ten indicators of child well-being have improved since 2000 — including infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, and the percentage of teens not in school and not high school graduates — three areas saw declines, including the percentage of babies born underweight, the child poverty rate, and the percentage of children living in single-parent families. Two areas were not comparable as a result of changes made to the American Community Survey's 2008 questionnaire, which affected the ability to track trends for the percentage of teens not in school and not working, and the percentage of children in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.
Looking across the ten indicators of child well-being, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Massachusetts ranked highest, while Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi ranked lowest. The eight states with the biggest improvements in their rankings over the decade were New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Wyoming, while South Dakota, Maine, West Virginia, Hawaii, and Montana posted the biggest drops.
Based on the report's findings, the Casey Foundation recommends six strategies it believes can move the nation's low-income families onto the path for prosperity: strengthening and modernizing unemployment insurance and promoting foreclosure prevention and remediation efforts; preserving and strengthening existing programs that supplement poverty-level wages, offset the high cost of child care, and provide health insurance coverage for parents and children; promoting savings and asset protection and helping families gain financial knowledge skills; promoting responsible parenthood and ensuring that mothers-to-be receive prenatal care; ensuring that children are developmentally ready to succeed in school; and promoting reading proficiency by the end of third grade.
"There is a great deal of knowledge about how to help struggling families get back on track and increase their children's chances for success while building a vibrant economy," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "In the years following World War II, we made great progress in child well-being and reduced many of the disparities associated with the differences in income and wealth, and race and ethnicity. Our challenge now is to find the will to make sound investments that can improve the economic prospects for families today while preparing our children for the future."