by Christina Samuels, Education Week
June 13, 2017

The percentage of children living in poverty has fallen slightly over the past six years, as has the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment and those whose families face a high housing-cost burden, according to an analysis of national data compiled in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count Data Book.

But the data book also finds places where child well-being is slipping, according to the foundation’s measures: The percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds not in preschool has risen slightly, as has the percentage of 8th graders who are not proficient in math, based on scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Put together, the data show steady improvement over previous years, but with areas that are a concern. For example, the percentage of children in single-parent households has risen slightly.

“Eight years after the most devastating recession of our lifetime, we are pleased to see some positive trends in many areas of child well-being,” said Patrick McCarthy, the foundation’s president and CEO. But to continue those gains, policymakers should continue to make targeted investments in areas such as early learning and health care, he said.

The foundation uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the federal Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Education and other sources for its annual assessment of child well-being. It tracks four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Each of those domains is derived from four indicators; for example, in the education domain, the foundation looks at the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds not in preschool, the percentage of 4th graders not proficient in reading, the percentage of 8th graders not proficient in math and the percentage of high school students not graduating on time.

The education domain showed mixed results. On the one hand, there were the declines in 8th grade math proficiency and in preschool enrollment. But the on-time high school graduation rate is at an all-time high at 83 percent for the 2014-15 school year. Also, while 68 percent of 4th graders did not score proficient in reading in 2009,  that figure had dropped to 65 percent by 2015.

Kids Count State Rankings

The foundation also uses the domains to rank states for child well-being.  New Hampshire ranked first, followed by Massachusetts and Vermont.

“We should be very proud of the work being done in New Hampshire to support children and families, but we cannot be complacent when it comes to what else we can do,” said Rebecca Woitkowski, early-childhood policy coordinator at New Futures, a New Hampshire advocacy organization, in a statement. She noted that New Hampshire has a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse among teens than the national average, which the state has to tackle.

Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mississippi were the three lowest-ranked states. But even those states had positive news to share; for all of them, the percentage of uninsured children has dropped over the past several years.

“This is additional proof that the policies enacted at the state and federal levels really do impact the lives of our children and their families,” said Amber Wallin, the director of New Mexico Kids Count.

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