Economic Distress Does a Number on Children•
Rebecca Lurye, Reporter
The well-being of American children looks to be a mixed bag, with gains in academic achievement and health offset by growing economic distress, a new study finds.
The percentage of children living in poverty in the U.S. is on the rise, according to the new Kids Count report, which also finds more children living in single-parent homes and with parents struggling to afford housing.
The data, which track change in 16 indicators of well-being from 2005 to 2010, also show more children had parents lacking steady employment. The decline in children’s economic situations is ominous because living in extended periods of deep poverty threatens children’s development, says Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which released the Kids Count report.
The study compiles data from the most recent year made available by all states, meaning many of the indicators represent findings from 2010, when joblessness was coming off its worst levels in 26 years. Since then, the average unemployment rate has dropped from about 9.6% to 8.2% so far this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, McCarthy says, the rates of children living in poverty have continued to rise after 2010, when 22% of children nationally were poor, up from 19% in 2005 — in Mississippi, a high of 33% of children lived in poverty in 2010, according to the report.
In 43 states, more children were experiencing poverty in 2010 than in 2005; in 32 states, more teens were out of both school and work; and 44 states and Washington, D.C.recorded a greater number of children living in homes burdened by high housing costs, meaning their family spent more than 30% of their pretax income on housing. Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked lowest overall in the 16 indicators.
“Where the news is bad, it’s very troubling,” McCarthy says.
Mark Edwards, executive director at children’s well-being non-profit Opportunity Nation in Washington, D.C., says he is heartened by some of the slight improvements in educational outcomes, including an improvement of 3 percentage points in the rate of students graduating from high school on time and a 6 percentage point increase in eighth-graders’ math proficiency. Some health indicators also showed progress, with the report finding lower rates of child and teen mortality, children living without health insurance, and teens dependent on alcohol and drugs.
But Edwards says the declines in economic well-being are “unacceptable.”
“Unless we make sure children grow up in households and communities where they are nurtured, we won’t be successful as a country,” he says. “I think people understand education is a piece of the puzzle, and I think there’s increasing awareness we have to do more than just focus on schools.”
McCarthy says addressing the needs of children has to include expanding and maintaining services to parents.
“You’ve got to help parents get connected to opportunity, be protected from foreclosure, and simultaneously make smart investments in the future for children,” he says. “This is not a time to cut early childhood programs, and it’s not a time to shut off opportunities for parents.”