How are America’s babies doing? The national nonprofit Zero to Three has compiled telling answers in its 2015 State Baby Facts, a collection of fact sheets for all 50 states.
“The State Baby Facts present infant and toddler data in the framework of good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences,” Zero to Three explains on its website.
The data comes from a number of sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), the National Governors Association, and the March of Dimes. A reference list is online.
One of the biggest challenges for babies and toddlers is poverty. Nationally, 25 percent are poor and 23 percent are “near poor,” according to the 2013 NCCP figures in this Zero to Three slide presentation.
And poverty has long-term consequences.
“Economic hardship often goes hand in hand with other environmental stresses,” the slide presentation explains, adding a list of complicating factors:
• “Timing matters: Early adversity affects the rapidly developing brain at a most sensitive period.”
• “Extreme early experiences shape brain architecture: chronic stress undermines neurological, emotional, and biological development.”
• “By age 3, almost half of toddlers in poverty have one or more adverse experiences.”
• “They will tend to be less successful in school and productive in the labor force, with increases in lifelong health problems.”
Among the other troubling national statistics:
• 21 percent of households with children under age 6 are food insecure
• 12 percent of children under age 3 have parents with no high school degree
• 27 percent of child maltreatment victims are under age 3
“When essential programs that buffer young children against multiple hardships fail to reach all of those in need, not only are their individual opportunities to reach their full potential jeopardized, so is our nation’s ability to build the strong, competitive workforce it will need in the future,” Zero to Three says in a policy brief.
Massachusetts can be both proud of its efforts for young children and eager to do more.
As Zero to Three points out, Massachusetts is ranked number one among the states for child well-being by the Annie E. Casey KIDS COUNT report.
That’s good news for many of the 221,000 children under age 3 in the state.
However as this state’s baby fact sheet notes: “In Massachusetts, a significant percentage of infants and toddlers live in low-income families, leaving them particularly vulnerable.” Specifically, 17 percent are below the federal poverty level; and another 15 percent are between 100 and 200 percent of that level.
In addition, 10 percent of children under age 3 live in families with parents who are unemployed; and 30 percent live with an unmarried parent.
Massachusetts does well in “Positive Early Learning Experiences.” For example, 64 percent of children age 0 to 5 have parents or family members who read to them daily, compared to 48 percent of children nationally.
Where Massachusetts fares poorly is in the cost of infant child care as a percentage of single mothers’ incomes. These parents pay 61 percent of their incomes, way above the national median of 37 percent.
Zero to Three provides an advocacy toolkit so that the baby facts can be used to impact policy. The toolkit includes tips on contacting legislators, links to resources, sample social media posts, and a sample op-ed.
“However you advocate for investments in infants and toddlers, State Baby Facts can be a critical tool to help policymakers understand how their youngest constituents are faring and provide perspective on how your state compares nationally. They help to define the problem that must be solved. But in addition to providing this snapshot, it is also important to explain the meaning behind the statistics — why the numbers matter — as well as provide a concrete policy solution that a policymaker can act upon.”