Kids Count Notes: Upward Trend in Child Well-Being, Big States Still Rank Low, and Fears of Census Undercount

The 2018 Kids Count Databook, an annual assessment of state and national performance on indicators of child well-being, was published today. The report, which you can click here to read, has been produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation since 1990 and tracks indicators in four main areas: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community.

The top and bottom of the state rankings hasn’t changed much. The top 10 is dominated by New England states; the bottom of the list is occupied again by Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. Following are Youth Services Insider’s quick takeaways from this year’s report.

Overall Well-Being Continues to Improve

As compared to 2010 figures, the most recent data documented in this report highlights very few well-being indicators show regression. Of the 16 key indicators (four each in the four subject areas), only two show worsened conditions: a .1 percent increase in the percent of babies born with low birth weights, and a 1 percent increase in the number of children in single-parent families.

At the same time, some of the indicators showed very marked improvement since 2010. Most notably, the percent of children without insurance has been halved, from 8 percent to 4 percent, progress that could be jeopardized depending on the future path of efforts to change or scrap the Affordable Care Act.

Among the other dramatic improvements:

  • Children whose parents lack employment, from 33 percent to 28 percent.
  • Children living in households with high housing cost burdens, from 41 percent to 32 percent.
  • Teen birth rate, down from 34 per 1,000 to 20 per 1,000.

Big States Mostly in Bottom Third

The states with the most children in it do not fare well as a group on the Kids Count rankings. Of the 15 most populous states in the union, eight of them rank below 30th this year and ranked below 30th last year as well: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona.

California used to rank among the top 20 pretty consistently by Kids Count. But in 2012, Casey made some changes to the indicators that resulted in subtle changes for some states and a dramatic drop for California. The state ranked 19th in 2010, dropped all the way to 41st in 2012, and now stands at 36th.

Among the high-population states, New Jersey and Virginia continue to be the biggest outliers. New Jersey ranked eighth in 2017, and is now the third-ranked state by Kids Count measures.

Kids Under Count on the Horizon?

In January of 2017, the Census Bureau shed light on a problem that demographers and researchers had known was true for years: the decennial census was undercounting young children.

According to the 2017 report by the bureau, the 2010 Census had done so to the tune of 1 million children between the ages of 0 and 5.

Casey took the opportunity of publishing this year’s Kids Count to ring alarm bells that the 2020 Census may produce an even worse undercount of young children, which could affect the amount of federal money allocated to youth services in each state between 2020 and 2030.

“Despite the vital importance of the census, we face another potential undercount of young children in 2020,” said Annie E. Casey Foundation CEO Patrick McCarthy, in the foreword to the report. “If the 2020 numbers are wrong, we will live with the consequences for 10 years.”

Undercounting occurs disproportionately among children in part because so many of them live in areas that are difficult to track, especially high-poverty neighborhoods with a lot of rental housing. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. children younger than age 5 live in such areas, according to Casey.

Based on the experience of 2010, Casey said, the undercount will disproportionately exclude Latino and African-American children. The 2010 under-5 undercount for those groups was 7.5 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, while the undercount for all other children (mostly white) was 2.7 percent.

The foundation enumerates a list of policy recommendations for the federal government to combat the undercount, including increased hiring of “trusted messengers,” individuals who can encourage citizens in hard-to-track areas to participate fully in the census.

A group of nearly 100 organizations has encouraged the same strategy, especially in light of tensions over immigration.

“Trusted messengers will be especially important given the Trump administration’s recent decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire” said a May policy paper issued by the Census Policy Advocacy Network.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at