The Annie E. Casey Foundation has just released its 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book, its annual look at children’s well-being across the country and in each state.
As the data book’s foreword explains: “After many years of calamitous economic trends, this year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book reveals some modest but hopeful signs of recovery and improvement for America’s children and families. While the nation certainly has not fully recovered from the recession, we are doing the hard work of digging out and moving ahead.”
The data book also looks at “how America’s youngest children are faring, adding to the ongoing national conversation on early childhood education,” according to the foundation’s press release.
Although the effects of the recession persist, children are making progress in health and education, and there have been slight improvements in their economic situations, the data book explains. Here are some of the specific findings:
– During 2009-2011, 54 percent of the nation’s three- and four-year-olds (4.3 million children) were not enrolled in preschool. This is a decrease from 2005-2007 when 56% of children were not enrolled.
– In 2011, the child poverty rate increased to 23 percent (some 16.4 million children), up from 19 percent in 2005.
– Forty percent of children lived in households with a “high housing cost burden,” the report says, meaning that these families spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2011. The percent of children in these households has improved slightly since 2010, but it is still higher than it was in 2005 when 37% of children lived in such households.
– Thirty-two percent of children have parents who lack full-time, year-round employment, up from 27% in 2008.
– From 2005 to 2010, the teen birth rate dropped to a historic low.
– The rate of high school students not graduating in four years fell by almost 20 percent from 27% in 2006 to 22% in 2010.
– The percentage of children without health insurance decreased from 10% in 2008 to 7% in 2011.
This year’s data book also features new information about multiracial children (children of two of more races). As the press release explains, “These data indicate that while deep disparities persist for African-American, Latino and American Indian children relative to their white and Asian and Pacific Islander counterparts, multiracial kids are generally faring better than or as well as the overall population — with a few exceptions: More multiracial children (42 percent) find themselves in single-parent families compared to kids overall (35 percent), and 37 percent have parents without full-time, year-round employment, compared to 32 percent in the general population.”
The good news for Massachusetts is that the state ranks third in overall child well-being. (New Hampshire ranks first. Vermont is second.) This ranking measures children’s education, health and economic status as well as the strength of their families and communities.
The commonwealth ranks a proud first in education, ahead of New Jersey, Vermont and New Hampshire. To determine state education rankings, the report compiles data on preschool enrollment, fourth grade reading proficiency, eighth grade math proficiency and high school graduation.
But as a data book summary also shows, Massachusetts still has a great deal of work to do in several areas. During 2009-2011, 41 percent of preschool-age children (some 60,000) were not enrolled in preschool programs. And in 2011, half of our fourth graders were not proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). While Massachusetts is number one in the nation on this benchmark, our reading outcomes must be improved if the commonwealth is going to prepare all students for success in college and careers.
Poverty is also a problem. “Although Massachusetts’ child poverty rate is relatively low compared to other states, one in six kids under five is currently living in poverty—roughly 75,000 young children,” according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), the lead KIDS COUNT agency in Massachusetts.
“The long-term investments we began to make in our schools in the 1990s are paying off, but too many of our kids are not yet getting the support they need to have a real opportunity to succeed.” said Noah Berger, president of MassBudget.
The Importance of Supporting Young Children
“Children are our nation’s most precious resource, as well as our future leaders, employees, citizens and parents,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey foundation. “The early years of their lives are a critical juncture in their development. As our economic recovery continues, we cannot lose sight of doing whatever it takes to help kids, particularly kids in low-income families, reach their full potential — and that includes laying a solid foundation from the moment they are born.”
Unfortunately the nation’s youngest children face considerable challenges. The report notes that, “younger children are disproportionately affected by the lingering effects of the recession: The poverty rate among children younger than three is 26 percent; among three- to five-year-olds, it is 25 percent — higher than the national average for all kids.”
“Early intervention can prevent, or at least reduce, some of the negative effects associated with living in poverty,” the report notes. And that while all children benefit from high-quality early education programs, “research indicates that the quality of care is most important for children at highest risk of poor developmental outcomes.”
The data book also highlights the larger needs of families, warning that, “Early childhood strategies alone will not successfully reduce disparities among children; we must also assist their parents.” That’s because, “too often, low-income parents struggle to gain and retain employment. Many experience violence and trauma, battle substance abuse, and have physical and mental health problems. Given the enormous influence that parents have on their children, especially when those children are infants and toddlers, we need to find better ways to support parents of young children.”
For More Information
For more data and information, visit the newly organized KIDS COUNT data center, where users can search for customized data by locations, zip codes or keywords. An interactive data wheel allows for quick comparisons between all 50 states across issue areas covered in the 2013 Data Book. For data on how Massachusetts supports children through the state budget, visit MassBudget’s Children’s Budget website.