Casey Study Shows Mixed Progress for Nation’s Youth

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The latest installment of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s benchmark measurements of child well-being shows progress in child and teen death rates and teen birth rates but also a big jump in the number of children living in poverty. The impact of the recession is still to be determined.

 “We won’t be able to assess the full impact of the economic downturn on children and families for a number of years,” said Laura Beavers, the Kids Count coordinator at the Baltimore-based foundation. That’s because the latest data available for most of the categories are from 2007 and 2008, although Beavers noted that “even data from 2008 that was collected before the recession took hold shows economic conditions were worsening for kids.”

The annual Kids Count compendium is used by youth work agencies around the country to advocate for services and funding for specific needs in their communities. The Data Book, which focuses on national and state data, is complemented by a Kids Count Data Center that provides hundreds of indicators, down to the community level.

On the national front, five of the 10 measured areas show improvements compared with 2000. There were decreases in the infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, and the percentage of teens not in school and not high school graduates.

The last category showed the largest percentage change: a 45 percent drop, from 11 percent of youth (ages 16 to 19) in 2000 to 6 percent in 2008.

The child death rate declined 14 percent, from 22 per 100,000 (ages 1 to 14) to 19 per 100,000 in 2007.

The teen birth rate declined 10 percent, from 48 births per 1,000 females (ages 15 to 19) to 43 births per 1,000 in 2007. However, that is up from 40 births per 1,000 in 2005.

The data show that three negative indicators got worse:

  • Child poverty rose 6 percent, from 17 percent of children in 2000 to 18 percent in 2008, “meaning that 1 million more children lived in poverty,” the book says. It notes that “between 1994 and 2000, the child poverty rate fell by 30 percent,” but that since then, “improvements have stalled.”
  • The share of low-birthweight babies rose 8 percent, from 7.6 percent of births in 2000 to 8.2 percent in 2007.
  • The percentage of children living in single-parent families rose 3 percent, from 31 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2008.

When compared with last year’s report, most of the data show little or no change. Because of changes in data collection, Casey deemed two areas – the percentage of teens not in school and not working, and the percentage of children in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment – “not comparable” to previous years.

Among the states, those scoring highest across the well-being indicators were New Hampshire, Minnesota and Vermont. Those scoring lowest were Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The foundation lamented that better and more recent data are not available from the various government sources from which it draws information. “None of us has a good grasp on the conditions facing America’s children, because state and federal agencies collect data too infrequently and often do not measure what really matters for kids,” Casey CEO Patrick T. McCarthy said in releasing the Data Book.

Casey called for improving several measurements that are run by or in conjunction with the federal government: expanding the National Survey of Children’s Health to include more indicators and more frequent data collection; adopting a poverty measure to supplement the current one, which “is based on spending patterns typical of the 1950s” (the Census Bureau plans to release a  new one this fall); increasing the sample size of the American Community Survey, especially “to provide more precise data for urban neighborhoods and sparsely populated rural communities”; and addressing various problems with the Vital Records System, which collects data from jurisdictions around the country.

The Data Book and the searchable data sets are at http://datacenter.kidscount.org.