The Kids Aren’t All Right
Oh, children. When will they learn? Never, it turns out, if they happen to live in one of the states in the U.S. with a poor record of quality of life for kids. In the Foundation for Child Development’s latest Child and Youth Well-Being Index, the group looked at 28 indicators (most focusing on children under 18 but some including young adults in their 20s) in seven categories to calculate its state-by-state index. The seven areas include family economic well-being, health, safe/risky behavior, educational attainment, community engagement, social relationships and emotional/spiritual well-being, which were given specific weights to calculate the index, on a scale of -1 to 1.
“This report shows that a strong relationship exists between children’s well-being and state policies that drive investments in children,” the report says. “The gap between public opinion and public investments in children remains large.”
The study’s findings paint a wide spectrum of childhood well-being in the U.S., indicating that “a child’s well-being is strongly related to the state where he or she lives.”
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Among the other key findings:
- Higher state taxes are better for children. The report found that states with higher tax rates have higher CWI values than states with lower tax rates.
- Public investments in children matter. Researchers also concluded that the amount of public investment in education and social programs targeted at children is strongly related to CWI values.
In terms of regional differences, the report found that the best states for children tend to be in the Northeast (New Jersey tops the list), while those at the bottom of the list are almost exclusively in the South. Here we count down the 10 worst.
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10th Worst State for Kids: Kentucky (tie)
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.47
Kentucky leads off the list in a tie for 10th-worst state for children, due in large part to the state’s less-than-stellar record in supporting children’s health programs. In 2007 state legislators decided to do something about the state’s poor record in this area and created the “Blueprint for Kentucky” to promote legislation that better supports young people. After four years in action progress is incremental, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has made it a priority to expand health coverage to the “over 67,000 Kentucky children who are qualified to receive care through the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid but are not yet enrolled.”
Photo Credit: Monique Wingard
10th Worst State for Kids: Alaska (tie)
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.47
Tied with Kentucky at number 10, Alaska turns out to be a somewhat inhospitable place for kids. The Foundation for Child Development’s report calls out the state for its sixth-lowest education levels for young adults (21.4% of Alaskans ages 25-29 have a bachelor’s degree, compared with the national average of 30%), and the state itself is trying to promote better family behaviors to support children in all aspects of their development.
Photo Credit: AlaskaDude
8th Worst State for Kids: Oklahoma
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.56
Dropping further down the index, Oklahoma comes in at No. 8 for its child well-being indicators. While the state’s Department of Health has several initiatives targeted at families and children, a number of independent groups and nonprofit organizations including the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth and the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy have stepped in to add to the effort.
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7th Worst State for Kids: Alabama
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.59
Alabama is a regular feature on the lower end of well-being rankings in the U.S. (see our Healthiest States in America or the Most Sinful States in America for starters), and that unfortunately doesn’t change when talking about children. Alabama is one of the states with the lowest reading scores (with only 31% of fourth-graders reading at proficient levels).
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6th Worst State for Kids: Arizona
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.68
At No. 6, Arizona’s numbers are pretty bad across the board. It’s the sixth-worst state in terms of reading levels, the eighth-worst state for young-adult education and the fifth-worst state for health insurance coverage for children.
Photo Credit: Ken Lund
5th Worst State for Kids: Nevada
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.74
Home of the famously sinful Las Vegas, Nevada has had a difficult few years. Reduced tourism and a severely depressed housing market have strained state finances to the breaking point. No wonder the state ranked as the least happy in the U.S. last year. It’s not like the government isn’t doing anything about the problem, though – the state’s Division of Child and Family Services has a number of ongoing initiatives to address it.
Photo Credit: Matthias Ott
4th Worst State for Kids: Arkansas
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.77
Arkansas may have produced one of the most popular presidents in recent memory (Bill Clinton), but its child welfare metrics place it at fourth-worst in the nation. It’s not a new problem, and local groups including the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families have been working for decades to improve the situation for young people. They admit that the gains have been slow, but their efforts enjoy broad support in the state.
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3rd Worst State for Kids: Louisiana
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.80
Louisiana is also a common fixture of the bottom of many state-by-state rankings, with considerable hardship coming on the heels of the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Things have gone considerably better since then though, and the state’s low unemployment (6.8% versus the national average of 8.5% in December) indicates that the state should improve in next year’s ranking.
Photo Credit: Ray Devlin
2nd Worst State for Kids: Mississippi
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.92
At No. 2, and in a familiar spot at the bottom of our roundups of how states rank in terms of quality of life, is Mississippi. The state was named the least healthy in the nation last year, and it is home to four of the poorest counties in the country. It’s no wonder the children of Mississippi have a hard time thriving if those are the conditions of the state’s adult population.
Photo Credit: Ken Lund
The Worst State for Kids: New Mexico
Child Well-Being Index Score: -0.96
Almost approaching the index’s worst ranking of -1, New Mexico wins the unfortunate prize for being the worst state for children in the whole country. Its education scores are dismal, posting a fourth-worst score for reading proficiency and a second-worst ranking for young adult education, and it’s the fourth-worst in the nation for health insurance coverage among children. Like with Louisiana, though, New Mexico’s low unemployment rate (6.6% in December) may indicate a recovery on the way that should have some trickle-down effect on the state’s children.
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Greg Emerson is a writer/editor for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com , or follow him on Twitter at @emersongreg.
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