Across the United States, there is enormous variation in state-level measures of child well-being. Yet, little systematic research has been done to explain these differences.
This report seeks to understand the link between child well-being and state characteristics. It begins by identifying three broad categories of factors that may help explain why some states — and not others — are more effective at supporting child well-being. These three categories are: 1) demographic characteristics, such as the concentration of higher risk groups — racial and ethnic minorities, new immigrants and very young children — within a state’s child population; 2) state policies, which may directly or indirectly affect children’s health and economic status; and 3) environmental factors, including the level of resources that parents invest in their children.
To conduct this review, researchers utilized the state-level child well-being index, which serves as the basis for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT® Data Book rankings. Beyond examining characteristics of the best- and worst-ranked states, the study also utilizes multiple regression analyses to estimate the independent effect of measures potentially linked to child well-being.
Key findings shared in this report include:
Most — 90% — of the differences in child well-being across states may be explained by the collective impact of a handful of measures.
Demographics, economics, and policy variables all contribute to differences in child well-being across states.
Among the policy variables tested, measures found to be related to child well-being include: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program dollar cutoff for countable assets; food stamp participation rate; state spending per child; and state charges for child health care coverage.
Among the demographic and economic variables tested, measures found to be related to child well-being include: percent Black; percent Hispanic; percent immigrant children; median family income; household net worth; and prevalence of uninsured adults.
Not all states are equal when it comes to supporting child-well being
Findings & Stats
Factors That Matter the Most
The most influential factors studied, in terms of their impact on state-level child well-being, are: the racial and ethnic composition of the child population (percent Black and/or Hispanic) and income potential (employment ratio, median family income, net worth).
Assessing Policies and Their Impact
Among the models reviewed in this study, policy measures were not as influential as race, employment and median family income in terms of shaping child well-being. One reason for this? The cross-sectional analysis used in the study fails to capture the effects of policies over time.
Absent Policies Connect Lowest-Ranked States
Not one of the bottom-10 ranked states supports a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit or a minimum wage requirement that exceeds federal requirements.
Statements & Quotations
It is worth noting that since the first KIDS COUNT report was published in 1990, the landscape regarding child well-being indicators has changed enormously. There is a growing interest in child well-being indices, in compiling data on children from different data sources, and in sharing results with policymakers and the public.
Recent developments are encouraging and suggest the time is ripe for significant advancement in state-level measures and indices of child well-being. The results of this study will help analysts better understand the inter-relationships among such measures.
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