How Are Children Faring in America? The Good and Bad News

In  1990, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the first Kids Count report, an annual survey measuring the well-being of the nation’s children examining various indicators across four key areas – economic well-being, education, health care, and family and community. Kids Count takes a look at  positive policies and practices that have improved children’s lives in these areas, highlighting specific success stories from individual states and what works at the federal level..

The Foundation recently released the 25th edition, which takes a look at the progress – and setbacks – since 2005 and between 1990 and 2012, a time when the nation’s child population grew from 64 million to 74 million.

Some of the education numbers are rather promising, but this good news is dampened by a crisis that has stubbornly persisted since the economic recession. Let’s take a look.

More Children Attending Preschool

During the past two decades, preschool attendance among 3- and 4-year-olds has increased by 34 percent. This improvement can be attributed in large part to successful federal programs, such as the creation of Early Head Start in 1994 and the increase in enrollment of Head Start until the recession hit in 2007-08. Too many kids – more than 4 million  3- and 4- year olds nationwide – continue to be locked out of these programs, however,

Slow Progress in Reading Proficiency

An alarming 66 percent of fourth graders in public school were reading below the proficient level in 2013, a slight improvement from 70 percent ten years ago. The numbers are still obviously way too high. More than 80 percent of African-American and Latino fourth graders and 78 percent of American Indian fourth graders fell short inn reading, compared with 49 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders and 55 percent of whites. Still, the Kids Count report notes that these figures have gradually improved.

Math As Well

Nationwide, 66 percent of public school eighth graders were not proficient in math in 2013, a drop of seven points since 2005. Like reading for fourth graders, eighth-grade math achievement improved for all racial and ethnic groups from 2005 to 2013, including an 8 percentage point improvement for Latinos. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia saw improvements, but a a wide gap  lies between Massachusetts (45 percent of its eighth-graders are not proficient) and Alabama (80 percent).

More Students Graduating On Time

In 2005-06, 27 percent of high school students did not graduate in four years. That number dipped to 19 percent in the 2011-12 school year. With 81 percent of high school students graduating on time in that year, the U.S. high school graduation rate is at an all-time high gains that have been driven by a 15 percent increase for Hispanic students and a 9 percent increase for African American students. Also worth noting is that in 1990, 22 percent of children lived in a household in which no parent had a high school diploma. That number dropped to 15 percent in 2012.

But still …

National Trends in 16 Key Indicators (Click to Enlarge) Credit: The Annie E. Casey Foundation

16.4 Million Kids Are Living in Poverty

The child poverty rate dropped from 18 to 16 percent from 1990 to 2000, but the recession reversed that trend significantly. By 2010, the child poverty rate reached 22 percent and has been stuck at that unacceptable level ever since.  Since 1990, the rate of children growing up in poor communities also increased, with 13 percent of children living in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is at least 30 percent. “Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development,” the report states. “Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn.”

“We must do much more,” said Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation,  “All of us, in every sector need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed. We simply cannot afford to endanger the futures of the millions of low-income children who don’t have the chance to experience high-quality early childhood programs and the thriving neighborhoods that higher-income families take for granted.”