Expanded access to healthcare and new tools — such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) — have improved the well-being of children, according to the latest 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report, which is updated annually, shows steady improvements in several areas of child well-being, including health care, graduation rates, fewer children living in poverty and an improvement in the employment rate of parents. More work needs to be done in high-poverty neighborhoods and education, specifically math and reading proficiency.
Don’t threaten programs that have enabled the U.S. to post gains in child well-being, says Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the foundation.
“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.”
The report found that three New England states ranked in the top five for overall child well-being – New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont – followed by Minnesota and Iowa. Conversely, states in the South and Southwest ranked at the bottom. Mississippi is the lowest-ranked state, followed by New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada and Arizona.
Findings from the report:
- Economic incentives produced slight gains for families. Tax credits and more job opportunities have helped pave the path out of poverty for many families and show promise for helping to further increase mobility.
- More parents are employed, fewer families are living with a significant housing cost burden and fewer children are living in poverty. While the long-awaited post-recession job growth has provided the most help, the EITC has buoyed many low-income families.
- More families are living in high-poverty neighborhoods. 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.
Children made minimal gains in education. Despite an increase in high school completion rates, academic gains among children actually fell; 68%of eighth graders lacked proficiency in math in 2015, up from 2009. Nearly two in three fourth graders lack reading proficiency. And attendance for prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds remains stagnant, with 53% not accessing these beneficial services.
- Maintain health care programs. Reaching 95% of U.S. children with health insurance is a tremendous achievement that should not be jeopardized. Lawmakers should continue to support programs at the state and federal level. And they should look for ways to remove systemic barriers that prevent families from enrolling their children in health care programs.
- Invest in early childhood education. Science has taught us that the first few years of development can position a child for success in school and in life. Supporting early childhood education opportunities at the local, state and federal levels enables children to reach critical milestones that lead to lifetime success.
- 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.
In addition, offering more help with high child care costs, including federally funded vouchers and refundable tax credits, can help low-income working families better balance their financial responsibilities.
Info: https://goo.gl/xb8Se8 (report).