The 2009 Kids Count Data Book, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual statistical analysis of children's well-being released today, showed a mixed bag of results in health, education and economic indicators. But the report covers the boom years and does not reflect the effects of the country's current recession.
In addition to publication of the Data Book, the Casey Foundation launched a web database that provides more detailed graphs and charts, all corresponding with this year's essay that highlights the importance of collecting more accurate data to shape policies that will improve disadvantaged children's lives.
"We need to be able to accurately describe how our kids are doing," said Patrick McCarthy, Casey Foundation senior vice president, in a telephone conference. "We need to be able to track the progress in our efforts to improve their chances to having a successful life and to hold ourselves and public officials accountable for that progress."
He pressed for a fully funded U.S. Census next year and an updated poverty measure among his calls to action for federal, state and local leaders.
Kids Count coordinator Laura Beavers, who joined McCarthy in the conference call, spoke of her hesitancy to declare this year's statistics encouraging, even with improvements in six of 10 areas. Because of the lag time in collecting data, the current book is based on 2006 and 2007 numbers.
The documented improvements, Beavers said, are still not on par with more statistically significant improvements in the late 1990s, and the inability to include post-recession figures in this year's report - because of the publication schedule - could signal declining conditions in future Kids Count findings.
"This data doesn't include the height of the economic downturn," Beavers said. " We know this is a big underestimate of what is going on with kids and families today."
The improving indicators mostly concern health - including child death rate and infant mortality rate - yet the deteriorating statistics, seen more in economic areas, are particularly disconcerting because they pre-date the depths of the current recession.
The report also contains distressing news for Mississippi residents, as their state had the lowest ranking value in six of the indicators, such as percent of low birth-weight babies, teen birth rate and percent of children in poverty.
The Data Book's state and national breakdowns of these key measurements do not provide the same precision and user flexibility offered on the accompanying website - http://datacenter.kidscount.org - which features the same data sets plus many more detailed indicators, and also breaks the data down by city, town, school district or county. The graphs and charts generated from the site can be pushed live on users' own personal sites or blogs without issues of copyright infringement.