Kids Count 2013
by Dee Wilson
Anna E. Casey’s annual Kids Count reports have ranked states on indicators of child and family well-being since 1990. Taken together, these reports provide a longitudinal picture of national trends in child and family well-being and comparisons of states in four domains: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health and Family and Community. The 2013 Kids Count report is mostly based on 2011or 2010 data regarding 16 indicators, 4 indicators for each domain. The 16 indicators are:
Economic Well-Being – child poverty rate; children whose parents lack secure employment; children living in households with a high housing burden; teens not in school and not working.
Education – children not attending pre-school; fourth graders not proficient in reading; eighth graders not proficient in math; high school students not graduating on time.
Health – low birth-weight babies; children without health insurance; child and teen death rate; teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.
Family and Community – children in single parent families; children in families where head of household lacks a high school diploma; children living in high poverty areas; teen births per 1000.
Kids Count report gives states a composite ranking for child and family well- being; and these rankings typically have a strong regional flavor:
1. New Hampshire 50. New Mexico
2. Vermont 49. Mississippi
3. Massachusetts 48. Nevada
4. Minnesota 47. Arizona
5. New Jersey 46. Louisiana
6. North Dakota 45. South Carolina
7. Iowa 44. Alabama
8. Nebraska 43. Georgia
9. Connecticut 42. Texas
10. Maryland 41. California
11. Virginia 40. Arkansas
12. Wisconsin 39. Tennessee
13. Maine 38. Florida
States in New England and the upper Midwest usually have the best composite rankings and states in the Deep South and southwest have the lowest rankings, in part because composite rankings are greatly influenced by economic indicators. New England and the upper Midwest rank high on these indicators while the South and Southwest contain many of the poorest states. Of the states ranked 38-50 in Economic Well Being only North Carolina (38th) and Oregon (41st) have a composite ranking better than 38th.
However, Robert Putnam pointed out in Bowling Alone (2000) that Kids Count rankings are also strongly associated with indicators of social capital, i.e., the extent to which persons living in various communities and states are involved in social and civic activities. Social capital is a concept that encompasses everything from club memberships to socializing with friends to voting rates. The various indicators of social capital are, in effect, proxy measures of community spirit and civic involvement. States in the upper Midwest with a strong Scandinavian heritage and states in New England that were settled by religious communities seeking religious liberty rank high on multiple indicators of social capital. Utah ranks 14th in Kids Count 2013, the highest composite ranking for a Western state.
Interestingly, the strength of community spirit and rates of civic engagement in various states appear to be powerfully influenced by the history of ethnic and religious communities that long ago had to pull together to survive.
States in the West
Kids Count composite rankings for Western states are as follows:
Wyoming, Utah and Montana ranked in the top 15 states on Economic Well-Being; Wyoming ranked second nationally on economic indicators. Idaho ranked 23rd, Alaska ranked 24th, Washington ranked 28th and Oregon 41st on Economic Well- Being. Washington’s 2013 disappointing ranking on Economic Well Being was in part the result of the percentage of children whose parents lacked full time secure employment (33%), the burden of housing costs, i.e., (41% of families spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs) and the percentage of teens not in school and not working (9%). On a positive note, Washington’s child poverty rate of 18% was well below the national average of 23%. Washington’s composite Kids Count ranking declined from 13th to 19th between 2005 and 2011, primarily because of the state’s decline in Economic Well Being compared to other states.
Washington has very different rankings on the four 2013 Kids Count domains:
Economic Well-being – 28th
Family and Community- 17th
Washington tied for the 5th lowest percentage among states of child and teen deaths from all causes, i.e., 21 per 100, 000 compared to 26 per 100, 000 nationally.
California ranked 46th among states in Economic Well Being, in part because over half of California’s families had a high housing burden, i.e., housing costs of 30% or more of family income. California ranked 39th in Education, 29th in Health and 42nd in Family and Community. California’s composite ranking was 41st.
Nationally, there have been modest improvements in education and health well-being indicators during recent years. Perhaps the most impressive improvement has been the reduction in child and teen death rates from 32 per 100,000 in 2005 to 26 per 100,000 in 2010. Concretely, the reduction in the child and teen death rate resulted in 4600 fewer child deaths in 2010 compared to 2005. The death rate for children ages 1-14 has declined from 31 per 100,000 in 1990 to 17 per 100,000 in 2010.
There has also been a long term decline in teen births from 48 per 1000 teens in 2000 to 34 per 1000 in 2010. However, the small improvement in education indicators seems more like a reason for concern than celebration. According to Kids Count 2013, “a stunning 68 percent of fourth graders in public school were reading below proficiency levels in 2011, a slight improvement from 2005 when the figure was 70 percent; “and more than 80 percent of African American, American Indian and Latino fourth graders were not proficient in reading …” The percentage of eighth graders not proficient in math declined from 72 percent in 2005 to 66 percent in 2011.
By far the most concerning Kids Count trend in recent years has been the growth in the child poverty rate from 19% in 2005 to 23% in 2011. In 2011, 15 states and the District of Columbia had child poverty rates of 25 percent or higher, and the poverty rate for African American families (39%) was almost three times higher than the rate for non- Hispanic Whites. Kids Count 2013 comments that “Even more disturbing is the fact that the poverty rate for very young children – those under 3 years old – was 26 percent.” These poverty rates reflect a 7.5 percent unemployment rate (12 million Americans) and a distressing rate of long term unemployment with 3 million people out of work for a year or more. Poverty has the greatest negative effect on child development when children are 0-3.
Poverty is also related to the percentage of children growing up in single parent families; in 2011 35 percent of all children and 37 percent of infants and toddlers were living in single parent families. Given these statistics, perhaps it is not a surprise that “the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low income students in the United States has grown about 40 percent since the 1960s, even as the racial gap has narrowed.”
Another recent report on child well-being indicators, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013 from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics provides a more in-depth account of economic trends affecting families of all social classes. According to this report, “the percentage of children living in families with medium income (200 – 399% greater than the poverty threshold) was lower in 2011 (29%) than in 1990 (37%). At the same time, the percentage of children living in families with high income (26%) was greater in 2011 than in 1990 (21%).” In addition, the percentage of children living in families with very high incomes ($136,800 or more) increased from 7% in 1990 to 12% in 2011.
Income inequality has steadily increased since 1990; the percentage of children living in middle income families has declined while both the child poverty rate and percentage of children in high income families has increased. The percentage of children living in severe poverty and the percentage of children living in families with very high incomes are similar, 10% and 12%; ditto for the percentage of children living in poverty and the percentage of children living in families with high incomes:
Severe poverty (less than 50% of the poverty threshold, about $22,800 for a family of four, less than $11,400 per year – 10%
Very high income (600 % or more than the poverty threshold for a family of four, $136,800 or more per year) — 12%
Child Poverty rate – 23%
Children living in high income families (400% of the poverty threshold for a family of four, about $91,200 or more per year – 26%
This structure of family incomes is likely to result in an almost unbridgeable cultural divide between children living in families able to offer them every possible advantage and children living in families struggling to meet their basic needs, or (worse) on the verge of destitution. Teens and young adults from high income families whose expectations include access to world class universities, entry into the professions, foreign travel and a wealth of opportunities for creative commitments and activities are likely to have far different values and attitudes than youth whose realistic educational aspirations are limited to community college or job training, and who have to continually struggle to meet their basic needs. The growing cultural differences between an economic elite and poor or nearly poor families is the subject of Charles Murray’s provocative book, Coming Apart: The State of of White America, 1960-2010.
In addition, low and middle income families are being squeezed by increasing costs of housing, education and medical care. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics’ recent report, in 1978 15% of American families had housing costs that were 30% or more of family income; in 2011 41% of families had housing costs that took almost a third of their income or more.
Variations Among States
There are very large differences between and among states on almost all of Kids Count 16 indicators of child and family well- being:
Indicator Best Worst
Child poverty rate New Hampshire – 12% Mississippi – 32%
Children living in households
with a high housing burden North Dakota – 21% California – 52%
Rate of teens not in school Wyoming – 4% Nevada – 13%
Percentage of fourth graders Massachusetts – 50% New Mexico – 79%
reading below proficiency level
Percentage of high school Vermont – 9% Nevada – 42%
students not graduating from
high school in four years
Child and teen death rates Connecticut; Montana
Massachusetts (45 per 100,000)
Rhode Island (17 per 100,000)
Kids Count 2013 and America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well –Being, 2013 describe a country in which children are physically safer than they were 20 years ago, better behaved and less likely to take on parenting responsibilities in their teenage years. Nevertheless, these reports provide strong evidence of a steady increase in income inequality which includes increases in both the child poverty rate and in the percentage of children living in high and very high income families. Child poverty has powerful negative effects on child development, especially when children are 0-3, and is associated with elevated rates of child behavior problems, chronic health conditions and learning difficulties. It is already evident that educational policies and practices are unlikely to overcome the effects of social class on children’s educational readiness and on their educational achievement. Increases in income inequality have led to vastly different life opportunities for children from high income and low income families and a shrinking percentage of children living in middle income families. This is a trend which has created the potential of a society in which class differences are largely locked in at birth.
State’s rankings on Kids Count domains such as Health, Education and Family and Community are highly correlated with their rankings on Economic Well- Being; but these rankings are also influenced by citizens’ level of social and civic involvement. Regional differences stand out in Kids Count rankings; and these differences in community spirit and civic involvement appear to be influenced by the history of ethnic and religious groups that settled different areas of the country.
Anna E. Casey Foundation, 2013 Kids Count Data Book: State Trends in Child Well- Being .
Anna E. Casey Foundation, 2011 Kids Count Data Book: America’s Children, America’s Challenge, Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation.
Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well- Being, 2013.
Murray, Charles, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, pub. 2012.
Putnam, Robert, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Pub. 2000.
The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s, and are not intended to reflect the views of Casey Family Programs or any other organization.