When it comes to overall child well-being, Kentucky ranks in the bottom half nationally, and a new report released Tuesday, June 26th, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows the state lost ground this year.
Kentucky ranks 37th nationally in this year’s Kids Count Data Book, a drop from its spot as 34th in the nation last year.
However, the state did see gains in economic well-being.
For Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, it’s a surprising positive.
“The needle has finally begun to move in the right direction when it comes to economic well-being,” he said. “Every measurement in that domain shows improvement.”
Kentucky saw a slight drop in children living in poverty, from 26 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2016.
Other areas showed bigger gains. The percentage of children with parents lacking secure employment dropped from 37 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2016. The rate for teenagers not in school or working fell to 8 percent in 2016, down from 11 percent in 2010.
Additionally, the rate of children living in households with high housing costs dropped from 32 percent to 26 percent between 2010 and 2016.
“What does merit celebration is that all four of those measurements are moving in the right direction,” Brooks said.
To keep that momentum, Brooks suggested checks on predatory lending, state refundable earned income tax credits and granting neighborhoods special tax or regulatory exemptions to stimulate local economic development.
While Kentucky saw gains in economic well-being, other results were mixed.
Within the education category, Kentucky got good news with only 11 percent of high school students not graduating on time. That puts Kentucky as fourth in the nation for that indicator.
The state fell short in its lack of significant progress from 2009 to 2017 in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency. As many as 62 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, and 71 percent of eighth-graders are below proficient in math.
Additionally, 59 percent of children ages 3 to 4 are not attending school in Kentucky, an area the report notes as an ongoing need.
The report said health insurance remains positive in Kentucky, with 97 percent of children covered. But the state did fall backward on the rate of low birth-weight babies (9.1 percent in 2016) and child and teen deaths (34 per 100,000 youth ages 1 to 19). In 2010, the percentage of low birth-weight babies was 9 percent while the rate of child and teen deaths was 32 per 100,000.
Rates have dropped for teen births and children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma. But the percentage of children living in high poverty areas remains at 16 percent.
To promote progress on child well-being, Kentucky Youth Advocates suggests communities take steps to ensure an accurate 2020 census count to avoid leaving federal dollars on the table.
A news release from the child advocacy nonprofit said children under age 5 have a history of being the most undercounted age group by census takers.
As many as 8,000 Kentucky children under age 4 were missed during the 2010 census, according to the release. It’s estimated that 11 percent of Kentucky children under age 5 live in hard-to-count areas, including parts of eastern Kentucky and west Louisville.
Additionally, low-income children and children of color are disproportionately affected by the undercount.
Undercounts mean less money for school lunches, Head Start preschool programs, public health insurance, housing, child care and other government programs. Census data is also used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Furthermore, the report said the last-minute addition of a citizenship question on the census could deter immigrant families from participating.
Brooks said it would be “naive” not to be concerned about the question and that anyone who wants everyone to be counted should worry.