Kentucky ranks 37th in the nation in overall child well-being, slipping from its spot as 34th in the nation last year, according to the latest edition of the Kids Count Data Book released Tuesday by Kentucky Youth Advocates.
KYA said some of the state’s measurables – economic well-being, child health coverage, rate of births by teenage mothers and parental employment – could be further eroded by the coronavirus crisis.
KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks said in a news release that “while this data was collected prior to the pandemic, it’s clear that children and families in historically disadvantaged and oppressed communities are hit the hardest by the current crisis. ...
“Federal and state policymakers must prioritize policies and programs that expand opportunity for Kentucky’s growing child population, address disparities facing Kentucky’s children of color and launch families into a more prosperous future as they re-enter the workforce,” Brooks said.
The annual Kids Count Data Book tracks child well-being using 16 indicators, ranking each state in the nation across the areas of health, education, economic well-being and family and community.
In this year’s report, Kentucky ranks 41st in economic well-being, a measure that has been improving for the state since 2010.
However, other states are improving at a comparatively faster pace than Kentucky, and more than one in five children lived in poverty in 2018, according to the report. Additionally in 2018, 32 percent of children lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment.
On education, where Kentucky ranks 27th, the state’s progress is also mixed.
Nine in 10 Kentucky high school students graduated on time in 2018. However, Kentucky is still struggling to equip large percentages of fourth grade and eighth grade students with critical reading and math skills.
The report said 65 percent of fourth grade students were not proficient (on grade level) in reading in 2019. Additionally, as many as 71 percent of eighth graders that year were not proficient in math.
On health, Kentucky ranks 42nd. Kentucky’s higher percentage of children with health insurance – 96 percent – is a highlight in this year’s report, but roughly 40,000 remain without health insurance.
This year, the Data Book also offers a new metric: the percentage of children and teens (ages 10-17) who are overweight or obese. As many as 38 percent of Kentucky children fell into that category, with the state ranking 49th across the U.S.
For family and community, Kentucky ranks 41st in the nation. The report notes Kentucky’s progress on lowering its rate of births by teenage mothers, a metric that fell by 47 percent over eight years to 27 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. The percentage of children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma also decreased during that time, down to 10 percent, the report said.
“While this data is important, it doesn’t tell the whole story about how all Kentucky kids are doing,” Brooks noted in the release. “The discomforting truth is that the ZIP code in which our children live, the amount of money their family earns, and the color of their skin are pervasive and powerful influences on their childhood and the future they are able to embrace. Systemic inequities continue to limit opportunities to thrive for children of color, and it is our obligation to not only track and understand those, but also to transform systems so every Kentucky kid can grow up healthy, safe and hopeful for the future.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.