Housing starts and employment reports give us one picture of the state of our economy, and our nation.
But what about the state of our children and the indicators of their well-being — the percent without health insurance, for example, or the percent of families without even one securely employed adult?
For 25 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has tracked such numbers, which it argues are just as important to the nation’s future as our minute-by-minute watch of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
“Far more attention should be paid to child well-being indicators because everyone else’s future is wrapped up in theirs,” said Lori Pfingst, of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, one of the groups that works with the foundation to collect data in Washington state.
So how are the nation’s 74 million kids doing?
In its latest report, called Kids Count, the foundation saw some improvements.
In education, for example, a higher percentage of children scored “proficient” in reading and math on a national exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and fewer students failed to graduate from high school on time. That was true nationally and in Washington state.
Child health has shown improvement, too.
The foundation tracks the percent of low-birthweight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths per 100,000 people, and alcohol and drug abuse among teens. All have declined nationally, and three of the four have declined in Washington state, with the rate of low-birthweight babies unchanged.
The number of babies born to teenage mothers has dramatically declined, too, which the foundation calls “one of the most positive developments for the well-being of our youngest citizens.”
When it comes to economic well-being, however, the needle is moving in the opposite direction.
Here are some of Washington’s numbers, which parallel the national trends. They mostly compare 2005 with 2012, the latest data available.
- Percent of kids living in poverty: Rose from 15 percent to 19 percent — to nearly one in five kids.
- Percent of parents who lack secure employment: Increased from 26 to 31 percent. (This one compares 2008 to 2012.)
- Percent of children in households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing: 39 percent, up from 38 percent.
The percent of children living in single parent families is rising, too, as is the percent living in high-poverty areas.
Overall, Washington state ranks 18th of the 50 states in overall child well-being.
“We’ve made some gains in education and health, and that’s positive news,” said Pfingst. “But they could be more substantial if we made an investment in reducing poverty and improving employment outcomes.”