Annie E. Casey’s annual Kids Count 2011 was recently updated and released, continuing to track child well-being indicators nationally and in each state. This report is an important data source for identifying the effect of societal disturbances, like the great recession, and for furthering effective policy to ensure the maximum opportunity and vitality of our future. Kids Count analyzes sample date from the U.S. Census, includes trends back to the year 2000, and reports percents and rates to compare and rank states. While national statistics give insight into the direction of American child well-being, the Kids Count report points out that most measures in most states’ data differs by a statistically significant amount when compared to national data; therefore, children fare differently depending on their location. Based on the latest report, children in New England and the Northern Plains have higher well-being compared to children in the South and Southwest.
Beyond implicit detriment, the ten indicators reveal wider developmental and environmental risks. The indicators include, (1) low-birth weight babies; (2) infant mortality; (3) child death rate; (4) teen death rate; (5) teen birth rate; (6) youth not enrolled in high school or graduated from high school; (7) youth not attending high school and not working; (8) children and youth with no full-time, year-round employed parent; (9) children and youth in single parent families; and (10) children and youth in poverty. They variously indicate the status of maternal health, public health practices, socioeconomic conditions, safety practices, access to health care, economic potential, and access to resources among others. Some of the indicators show steady improvement nationally, others have steadily worsened, while more recent positive and negative trends are occurring in yet others. None of these trends are consistent across all states nor do they present an entirely good or bad picture.
Nonetheless, what is most glaring is the increase in child poverty, with nearly one in every five children living in poverty. KIDS COUNT reports 2.5 million more children in poverty in 2009 than in 2000, and points out that this increase effectively erases the positive declines of the late 1990’s. Growing up in poverty is associated with a host of risk factors. With national attention on our future stability, it is critical that this reality of our children’s increasing vulnerability be addressed within the current debate. Children in poverty rely on basic assistance and opportunities provided through social safety net programs, and all efforts to balance the budget must recognize the immediate and long-term value of these programs by exempting them from cuts.