How Much Do Kids Count? This Year We Get a Closer Look

By Tara Mancini

Members of Congress, as well as state and local politicians seem to agree that we must invest in kids.  They often contend that it is our duty to build the next generation. Yet, what exactly we mean by “investing in our future” is a sore point of contention – at best, and more commonly, a heated debate.

Luckily, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count data book is a great resource that sheds lights on where we as a society are doing right by our children and where we may need to adjust our priorities. Tuesday’s release marks the Foundation’s 23rd report, known for its state rankings in child well-being—always a helpful tool for states to see where they stack up in improving the lives of children.

The release of Kids Count has always presented a great opportunity for child advocates to tell the story of their state ranking– both commending efforts that have paid off, and bringing awareness to areas where investments in children are most needed. But this year, improved methods used to gather and organize data provide even more advantages. In addition to providing an overall ranking, states are also ranked on child well-being in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community, which provides a more detailed look at their progress. The foundation drew on extensive research to create these domains. These domains draw on extensive research in child well-being.

So how did states fare on these domains? When it comes to economic well-being, children in North Dakota fare the best, while Massachusetts tops the country in education. Vermont takes the lead in health, and New Hampshire ranks first in family and community.  On the other end of the spectrum, children in Mississippi come last in two domains: economic well-being as well as in family and community.  Nevada ranks at the bottom in education, while Montana ranks last in health.

Given the domain rankings, it should be no surprise that New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont rank in the top three, respectively, on the overall child well-being index, while Nevada and Mississippi rank 48th and 50th. While there is variation among regions, states in the same region tend to fare similarly (see the diagram on page 21).

Child advocates know that competition among neighbors can often be an impetus for change.  This week, the press in at least two states used the Kids Count data to show how their states are lagging in comparison to their immediate neighbors. Maine’s Kennebec Journal highlighted the state’s strengths in health and family and community, but also hinted at its room for improvement, given that Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont topped the chart.  The Detroit Free Press used its editorial to congratulate Michigan for its low percentage of uninsured children, while at the same time serving as a call to action. The paper framed the issue not as just about compassion for impoverished children, but as an issue of economic development that takes “long-term vision,” an investment in the future, if you will.

Note: For complete details on the report’s new methodology, click here.