Child poverty rates in the U.S. are on the rise, but health and education trends are showing improvements—including teen pregnancy reaching a historic low, according to the annual KIDS COUNT Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In its analysis of children's overall well-being, the 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book found that about 23% of children in 2012 are living in families below the poverty line. The KIDS COUNT Data Book takes into account four factors to judge children's well-being – economic status, education, health and family and community – and found that statistics were generally mixed since the study was started in 1990. This year's data book looks at state Census statistics up until 2012.
Poverty rates, which dropped from 1990 to 2000, saw an increase in the early 2000s – reaching 22% in 2010, and remaining at roughly the same level since. Patrick McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO, said these low-income families are still struggling to recover from the recession. With fewer resources being available from government programs like Medicaid or Medicare, and higher costs for housing and transportation, poorer families are staying poor.
"That's what's driving that drop," McCarthy said.
However, health and education rates are making significant strides. Teen birthrates reached an all-time low; child and teen death rates decreased; preschool enrollment climbed; and more children showed proficiency at reading and math.
"In my view it's a real mixed bag because we do have a lot of good things to point to," McCarthy said. "We've now learned what works in certain areas. That's where we have success."
McCarthy attributed much of the success in health and education to good state policy choices. Several states made greater investments in children's health insurance and educational programs. There is a disparity between regions of the country. Southern states tended to do less well on the children's well-being ratings than Northern states. The five lowest states are Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi, and the top five states are Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota.
"There are different decisions in where to invest in childhood (policies) between southern and northern states," McCarthy said.
Despite some progress being made across racial divides, Latino, African American and Native American groups still suffer more than other ethnic groups. African American and Latino children are seeing increases in reading and math proficiencies, but still hail from some of the poorest communities and households in the U.S., McCarthy said.
"Some of the biggest (racial) disparities are in poverty," McCarthy said. "Almost half of African American kids are in households where there is no stable income; what we've seen is some closure of the gap in education measures…but those numbers are still pretty sobering."