Child Well Being Index Report Provides Valuable Data to State Advocates

By Tara Mancini

As we have reported,  the U.S. has recently achieved some of the lowest uninsured rates for children on record. Yet, over the same period of time, children continued to experience increased rates of poverty. Because we know that poverty is distributed unevenly in the country, and in fact is often concentrated, the key message from the 2012 STATE Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI)  will resonate with many child advocates: the well-being of the child very much depends upon where in the country a child lives.  For example, Massachusetts has half the child mortality rate of Alabama, and children living in Texas are four times as likely to lack health insurance as children in Massachusetts.

The report, produced by researchers from the Anne E. Casey Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau with support from the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), avers that this is largely due to the way in which public programs are funded.  For children, 2/3rds of public support comes from state and local governments. Whereas, the federal government is responsible for funding 90% of programs that aid the elderly, and therefore it is easy to see why, on average, the elderly have lower poverty rates than children.

The STATE CWI, released in January 2012, is modeled upon the National Child Well- Being Index, released annually by the FCD and uses rich state data cultivated by the KIDS COUNT initiative. A few key highlights from the STATE CWI demonstrate the uniqueness of this study: higher state taxes are better for children, and public investments in children matter.

Higher state taxes have the strongest correlation with the STATE CWI.  The top ten ranking states for the STATE CWI have tax rates that hover around 10 percent, while the bottom ten ranking states have tax rates around 8.5 percent. States with higher taxes tend to invest more in public programs, and the authors report that increased child well-being is directly related to per-pupil expenditures in elementary and secondary education, access to public medical insurance programs like Medicaid and CHIP and higher levels of TANF benefits.

Another interesting finding involved the uninsured rates of adults. It has often been pointed out that more insured adults make for more insured children, and the STATE CWI makes an even stronger case by linking the adult uninsured rate to children’s overall well-being.  Of the 10 demographic measures found to have statistically significant correlations with overall child well-being, the measure with the strongest negative correlation is the percent of adults between the ages of 18-64 without health insurance. This affirms the notion that as the primary providers for children, states with struggling adult populations often have struggling child populations. 

The report is a great resource for advocates, as it explores a myriad of questions associated with child well-being: 1) What states have the best child well-being based on the index, 2) Which states performed best in each of the seven domains, 3) which states improved their child well-being the most from 2003-2007, and 4) What demographic factors, economic conditions, and public policies are associated with states that have higher levels of child well-being.  Here’s a sneak peak at some of the rankings:

In 2007, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire placed at the top of the Overall Child Well-Being Index, while Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico ranked in the bottom three, respectively.  Each of the top three states are also positioned in the lead for one of the seven individual domains that comprise the overall index. New Hampshire topped the family economic well-being domain, New Jersey the social relationships domain, and Massachusetts ranked first in both the education attainment and community engagement domains.  From 2003-2007, Hawaii, Virginia, and Massachusetts made the most progress, while Kansas, South Dakota, and Connecticut made the least.

Click here to see how your state measures up to others.