Nearly 8 million of our nation’s children had at least one unemployed parent in 2010. Twenty percent of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2009. From 2001 to 2009, the number of low-income children climbed from 27 million to 31 million. Over the last few years, we have become accustomed to hearing about the toll of the recession has taken on workers, businesses, and the economy overall. As I previously noted, the direct and indirect impacts of the recession on children have rarely been acknowledged during ongoing state and federal budget debates. This makes us especially grateful for yesterday’s release of The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2011 Kids Count project, one of our favorite resources for children’s data. As the report notes, the precarious economic times facing parents can have prolonged adverse effects on our children’s health, education, and economic mobility. While the figures on children’s economic well-being are harrowing, there are certainly achievements to be touted, including the Child Tax Credit that lifted 1.3 million children out of poverty in 2009.
In addition, there have been decreases in the national trends for infant mortality, and child and teen death rates. Nevertheless, substantial variations exist when comparing these figures across states and racial/ethnic groups. In 2007, the national infant mortality rate (often used a broad measure for a population’s health) was 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, but states range from a low of 4.8 per 1,000 in Washington and a high of 10 per 1,000 in Mississippi. Larger differences in infant mortality exist when compared across racial and ethnic groups. Non-Hispanic Whites have the lowest rate, 5.6 per 1,000, and African-Americans have the highest rate, 13.2 per 1,000 births. Still, infant mortality rates decreased in 30 states between 2000 and 2007.
Infant mortality and child and teen death rates are three of the 10 indicators used by Kids Count (see table) to rank states on how well children fare in all their stages of development. The composite index combines all 10 indicators for an overall state ranking, where New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Massachusetts are the top three states, and Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama rank as the bottom three. An exciting addition to the 2011 Kids Count Data Book is the online data center, a powerful tool containing hundreds of indicators that can be used by advocates and policy makers to create customizable reports.
The data is framed by an accompanying essay, aptly titled, “America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation.” Together the data and essay give a comprehensive look at the welfare of our nation’s children, which has remained at a standstill since 2000. This is not completely surprising, but it is unfortunate, given the great gains made during the last half of the 1990s.
Of particular interest to our blog readers is what the report has to say about health care. States are credited for using Medicaid and SCHIP to provide more children with health insurance. Yet, 7.7 million children and 12 million parents with children under 18 years of age remain uninsured. As states move forward with the implementation of health care reform, policy makers are reminded not to burden families with high out-of-pocket expenses, which are cited as the leading cause of bankruptcy for middle-income families. While the data from the report does give us reason for pause, it should also be thought of as a catalyst for raising the visibility of children’s issues in our national, state, and local policy debates.