Child Well-Being Improving but Poverty Still High, Report Finds

Child Well-Being Improving but Poverty Still High, Report Finds

While indicators of child well-being in the areas of health and education have improved in recent years, indicators of economic well-being have worsened, an annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

According to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book (60 pages, PDF), the official child poverty rate declined to 16 percent in 2000 but began rising again in the early 2000s, reaching 23 percent in 2012. At the same time, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account tax credits, food assistance, and subsidies for child care and housing, fell from 27 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2009 before ticking up again to 19 percent in 2012. The report also found that in 2012 the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment rose to 31 percent from 27 percent in 2008; that the percentage of children living in single-parent households increased to 35 percent from 25 percent in 1990; and that the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas rose to 13 percent from 9 percent in 2000.

On a more positive note, preschool attendance rates have increased by 34 percent over the last two decades, while fourth-grade reading proficiency rates, though still alarmingly low, saw a 7 percentage point improvement between 1992 and 2012; the percentage of children in families whose head of household lacks a high school diploma fell from 22 percent to 15 percent; and, more recently, eighth-grade math proficiency rates and high school graduation rates have improved.

In the area of health, the percentage of children without health insurance declined from 10 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2012, a 30 percent improvement. In addition, the report found that the death rate for children and teenagers fell dramatically from 46 per 100,000 in 1990 to 26 per 100,000 in 2012, while the percentage of low-birthweight babies — the only health indicator that has worsened since 1990 — remained stable at 8 percent.

At the state level, Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Minnesota were ranked highest for overall child well-being, while Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi were ranked lowest.

"On several fronts, we've seen the difference that smart policies, effective programs, and high-quality practice can make in improving child well-being and long term outcomes," said Annie E. Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education, and safety areas....But we must do much more....We simply cannot afford to endanger the futures of the millions of low-income children who don't have the chance to experience high-quality early childhood programs and the thriving neighborhoods that higher-income families take for granted."