Casey Foundation to Policymakers: Don’t Backtrack on Gains for U.S. Children

Posted June 13, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog caseyfoundationtopolicymakers 2017

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion urged state and fed­er­al pol­i­cy­mak­ers not to back away from tar­get­ed invest­ments that are prov­ing to help U.S. chil­dren become health­i­er, more like­ly to com­plete high school and bet­ter posi­tioned to con­tribute to the nation’s econ­o­my as adults. Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Patrick McCarthy called on lead­ers to con­tin­ue invest­ing in fam­i­lies as Casey released the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which shows steady improve­ments in sev­er­al areas of child well-being.

Down­load, order or view the Data Book

In recent years, gov­ern­ment poli­cies have helped dri­ve pos­i­tive out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies nation­wide and in sev­er­al states. Nine­ty-five per­cent of U.S. chil­dren now have health care cov­er­age, a his­toric high, due to the com­bi­na­tion of key pro­vi­sions of the Afford­able Care Act (ACA) and expan­sions to Med­ic­aid and the Children’s Health Insur­ance Pro­gram (CHIP). Cal­i­for­nia, home to one in eight of the nation’s chil­dren, saw a 67% decline in the num­ber of unin­sured chil­dren between 2010 and 2015, the biggest improve­ment over that peri­od. Col­orado, Min­neso­ta, Neva­da, New Mex­i­co, New York, Ore­gon and South Car­oli­na also saw declines of unin­sured chil­dren of more than 50%.

With the sup­port of poli­cies such as the Earned Income Tax Cred­it (EITC) and the Child Tax Cred­it, few­er chil­dren over­all live in pover­ty, more par­ents have jobs and more fam­i­lies are able to bear the cost of hous­ing. Addi­tion­al­ly, a nation­al, all-time high of 83% of stu­dents com­plet­ed high school on time.

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,” McCarthy said. As pol­i­cy­mak­ers search for ideas to expand the econ­o­my and bring eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty to fam­i­lies, I urge them not to aban­don tar­get­ed pub­lic invest­ments that are help­ing more peo­ple lift them­selves out of pover­ty and gain access to health care.”

Key Find­ings from the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book:

Eco­nom­ic incen­tives pro­duced slight gains for families
Tax cred­its and more job oppor­tu­ni­ties have helped pave the path out of pover­ty for fam­i­lies in the Unit­ed States and show promise for help­ing to fur­ther increase mobil­i­ty. The Data Book shows that more par­ents are employed, few­er fam­i­lies are liv­ing with a sig­nif­i­cant hous­ing cost bur­den and few­er chil­dren are liv­ing in pover­ty. Nation­al­ly, the per­cent­age of chil­dren in fam­i­lies liv­ing below the fed­er­al pover­ty line fell slight­ly, from 22% in 2010 to 21% in 2015. In 2015, the year of our most recent data, the nation’s unem­ploy­ment rate was 5.3%, but has since declined to 4.5%. The EITC has buoyed many low-income families.

More fam­i­lies liv­ing in high-pover­ty neigh­bor­hoods, min­i­mal gains in education
Despite the progress, there are areas of con­cern. For exam­ple, the rise of chil­dren liv­ing in high-pover­ty areas over the past decade is per­sis­tent. From 2011 to 2015, 14% of chil­dren lived in areas where pover­ty rates were at or above 30%. Pover­ty has a stran­gle­hold on parts of the Unit­ed States, espe­cial­ly in the South and South­west, where chil­dren face eco­nom­ic, health and aca­d­e­m­ic chal­lenges with few poli­cies and invest­ments to mit­i­gate them. The four states that had 20% or more of their chil­dren liv­ing in high-pover­ty areas — Ari­zona, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sip­pi, New Mex­i­co — are in the south­ern and south­west Unit­ed States. In the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, 25% of chil­dren reside in high-pover­ty neigh­bor­hoods. Eighty-four per­cent of chil­dren in Puer­to Rico live in high-pover­ty areas.

The U.S. con­tin­ues to have one of the high­est child pover­ty rates among all devel­oped coun­tries,” said Lau­ra Speer, asso­ciate direc­tor of pol­i­cy reform and advo­ca­cy for the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. This unfair­ly bur­dens our young peo­ple and the nation, cost­ing an esti­mat­ed $500 bil­lion a year in reduced eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties and increased health and crim­i­nal jus­tice-relat­ed costs.”

And, despite the rise in high school com­ple­tion rates, aca­d­e­m­ic gains among chil­dren fell. Six­ty-eight per­cent of eighth graders scored below pro­fi­cient in math in 2015, up from 2009. Near­ly two in three stu­dents in fourth grade lack read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. Atten­dance for prekinder­garten pro­grams for 3- and 4‑year-olds remains stag­nant, with 53% not access­ing these ben­e­fi­cial services.

The 2017 Data Book focus­es on key trends in the post-reces­sion years, mea­sur­ing child well- being in four domains: eco­nom­ic, edu­ca­tion, health and fam­i­ly and community.

State Rank­ings in the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book
Three New Eng­land states ranked among the top five in the Unit­ed States for over­all child well-being — New Hamp­shire, Mass­a­chu­setts and Ver­mont — fol­lowed by Min­neso­ta and Iowa. States in the South and South­west ranked at the bot­tom: Mis­sis­sip­pi is the low­est-ranked state, fol­lowed by New Mex­i­co, Louisiana, Neva­da and Arizona.

  • Three heart­land states were among the top five in eco­nom­ic well-being — North Dako­ta, Min­neso­ta and Iowa — along with New Hamp­shire and Utah.
  • Cal­i­for­nia ranks among the bot­tom five states in eco­nom­ic well-being, a dis­con­cert­ing fact giv­en that nine mil­lion chil­dren — or one in eight of all U.S. chil­dren — live in the state.

Data-dri­ven invest­ments and poli­cies are key for promis­ing futures
We must use reli­able data to inform pol­i­cy deci­sions that ease pover­ty and cre­ate the next gen­er­a­tion of health­i­er and bet­ter-edu­cat­ed cit­i­zens,” said McCarthy. We call on pol­i­cy­mak­ers to use this evi­dence to con­tin­ue and expand what’s work­ing, and to find addi­tion­al solu­tions that make a mea­sur­able dif­fer­ence for children.”

The Casey Foun­da­tion offered the fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to ensure all chil­dren can reach their full potential:

  • HEALTH — Main­tain health care pro­grams. Reach­ing 95% of U.S. chil­dren with health insur­ance is a tremen­dous achieve­ment that should not be jeop­ar­dized. Pro­vide con­tin­ued invest­ments at the fed­er­al and state lev­els. Remove sys­temic bar­ri­ers that pre­vent fam­i­lies from enrolling their chil­dren in health cov­er­age programs.
  • EDU­CA­TION — Invest in ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion pro­grams. Sci­ence has taught us that the first few years of devel­op­ment can posi­tion a child for suc­cess in school and life. Sup­port­ing ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties at the local, state and fed­er­al lev­els enables chil­dren to reach crit­i­cal mile­stones that lead to life­time success.
  • ECO­NOM­IC — Expand pro­grams that cre­ate eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty for fam­i­lies. The EITC, at the fed­er­al lev­el and in many states, has become a cor­ner­stone in help­ing low- income fam­i­lies meet basic needs. Offer­ing tax breaks for child care can help work­ing par­ents bet­ter bal­ance their finan­cial responsibilities.

Down­load, order or view the Data Book

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