The latest edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows improvements for child well-being over the last 30 years, but there are still areas for improvement in the nation and in Maine.
The 30th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book explores how America’s child population has changed since 1990, as well as how children are faring in health and well-being now compared to then.
Overall, children are doing better today than they were 30 years ago: Of the 16 areas of child well-being tracked across four domains — health, education, family and community and economic well-being — 11 have improved since the first publication of the Data Book in 1990.
The data reveal, in the United States today, more parents are financially stable and living without burdensome housing costs. More teens are graduating from high school and delaying parenthood. And access to children’s health insurance has increased compared to just seven years ago.
But it is not all good news. The risk of babies being born at a low weight – with implications for overall short- and long-term health – continues to rise, racial inequities remain systemic and persistent and too many kids across the country are still growing up in areas of concentrated poverty.
By state, New Hampshire ranked first in overall child well-being, followed by Massachusetts and Iowa, while Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico are at the bottom. Except for California and Alaska, the lowest 18 ranked states are in Appalachia, the South or the Southwest.
Growth Spurt: The nation’s child population added more than 9 million kids since 1990. Half of this came from three states: Texas, Florida and California. In Maine, the child population declined from 1990 by 18%, tying for the largest decrease with Vermont.
Location Matters: In terms of overall child well-being, six of the 10 top-ranked states are in the Northeast – including Maine, which saw a improvement from 16th to 9th place in one year. States in Appalachia, the South and Southwest — where families have the lowest levels of household income — are at the bottom of the overall rankings.
Diversity Data: Nearly half of the nation’s child population (47%) are now kids of color. At the local level, every state reported a higher proportion of non-white kids compared to three decades ago.
Maine Focus: This year marked the first time Maine has ranked in the top 10, moving up in the national rankings for child health and well-being. Despite this, there was wide disparity in performance between indicators; Maine ranked fifth in indicators related to family and community but ranked 23rd in education indicators.
eighth in economic well-being. This year, Maine improved in every economic measure. Most notably, Maine experienced the largest reduction in child poverty of any state last year, from 17 percent in 2016 to 13 percent in 2017.
23rd in education. This year, Maine performed virtually the same as last year on every indicator, but Maine’s ranking still went down, signifying that other states made improvements where Maine did not.
fifth in family and community. In this domain, Maine improved slightly in each of the four measures, and Maine’s overall ranking improved from sixth to fifth. At 4 percent, Maine continues to lead the nation with the lowest rate of children in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma.
16th in health. Due to a decrease in the rate of child and teen deaths (ages 1-19) from last year, Maine improved from 20th to eighth in that ranking. However, Maine’s teen suicide rates continue to be above the national average. Maine’s rate of child health insurance coverage stayed flat from last year.
“In one year, Maine had the most significant reduction in child poverty in the country, bolstered in part by the minimum wage increase that went into effect in January 2017,” said Claire Berkowitz, MCA’s executive director. “Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development and so it’s very good news that our state is moving the needle in the right direction on this important indicator.”
While Maine experienced gains in economic factors, education indicators have stagnated. With fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math performance measures, Maine was near the middle nationally, and of New England states, last in reading and fourth in math. Maine continued to lag behind the national rate for children ages 3 and 4 not enrolled in early education programs at 57 percent, versus 52 percent not enrolled nationally.
This latest data again offers us the opportunity to examine how effective policies and programs have positively impacted child health and well-being in our nation and in our state. It is also an opportunity to consider what more we can do to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.
“America’s children are one-quarter of our population and 100 percent of our future,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. “All of the 74 million kids in our increasingly diverse country have unlimited potential, and we have the data, knowledge and evidence to create the policies that will help them realize it. It’s incumbent upon us to do just that.”
— The 2019 KIDS COUNT® Data Book is available to download at www.aecf.org/databook, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being.