The well-being of children in the United States has stagnated since 2000, after improving over the mid- to late 1990s, and the economic downturn affects millions of children, according to the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. One in five children lives in poverty, with 2009 income for a family of four falling below $21,756. This is up from 17% in 2000. And 11% of the nation’s children had at least one unemployed parent in 2010.
Massachusetts, overall, fared better than most of the nation, ranking third behind New Hampshire and Minnesota. In the Bay State, 13% of children live in families with incomes below the poverty line, the fifth lowest in the country, compared with 14% in 2000, and 9% of children had at least one unemployed parent in 2010. The lowest ranking states, according to KIDS COUNT, are Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. (National Public Radio story: Study: Child Poverty Up In 38 States In Past Decade)
“In 2009, 42% of our nation’s children, or 31 million, lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line or $43,512/year for a family of four, a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” Laura Speer, associate director for Policy Reform and Data at the Casey Foundation, said in a news release. “The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s. Nearly 8 million children lived with at least one parent who was actively seeking employment but was unemployed in 2010. This is double the number in 2007, just three years earlier.”
As we work to improve young children’s access to high-quality early education and care and to ensure that they become proficient readers by the end of third grade, the KIDS COUNT data supplies a sobering backdrop. Poverty, for instance, is strongly linked with the achievement gap. And parental work status is the basis for subsidized early education and care for children from low-income families. Parents’ loss of work can lead to their children’s loss of access to the early education that, research says, helps close the achievement gap.
Ensuring that children are developmentally ready to succeed in school and promoting third grade reading proficiency are among the strategies KIDS COUNT recommends to improve children’s well-being. “Reaching the milestone of reading on grade level by the end of third grade is critical to ensure that the next generation of students can compete globally,” the news release states. “Deeper connections between the early childhood and K-12 systems and ensuring more consistent standards across states can better serve children and result in increased student achievement.”
In addition to looking at the effect of the current economic downturn on children, KIDS COUNT annually tracks 10 key indicators in all 50 states. Other findings include:
- Massachusetts has a teen birth rate of 20 per 1,000 females, age 15-19, the lowest in the country, down from 26% in 2000. Nationally, the rate was 41 per 1,000, down from 48 in 2000.
- Massachusetts ranks 19th in the nation in low-birthweight infants, with 7.8% born at a low birth weight, up from 7.1% in 2000. Nationally, 8.2% of newborns were low-birthweight, up from 7.6% in 2000.
“Current debates about what to cut from the budget, what to preserve, and whether to raise additional revenues will ultimately need to be resolved through tough choices and compromises,” the report states. “Despite significant disagreements over the best way forward, there is widespread acknowledgement across the political spectrum that our country’s long-term prosperity depends on how well we prepare the next generation to meet the challenges of a competitive global economy. As policymakers debate these thorny issues, we urge them to keep focused on the importance of preparing our children for the future.”