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Massachusetts took the top spot in the KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual survey from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, while Mississippi ranked 50th.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota lead the country in overall child well-being, while Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi rank at the bottom, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual survey, analyzes child well-being in each state and Washington, D.C., based on 16 indicators across four categories—economic well-being, education, health and family and community.
This year’s edition included additional data specific to the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that children and families had suffered myriad unprecedented challenges ranging from health concerns to food and housing insecurity. Those issues could be most effectively addressed nationwide by a permanent expansion of the child tax credit, established in March as part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, the organization said. That “single change,” the report noted, “will lift more than 4 million children above the poverty line.”
But the tax credit is authorized for just one year. “Making the expanded child tax credit permanent will continue providing critical financial support for families who are struggling to make ends meet and help reduce long-standing disparities that affect millions of families of color,” Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in a statement.
Massachusetts, ranked first in the report overall for children’s well-being, had high rankings in each of the four major categories, including health, where it scored highest in the country thanks to a slight improvement in its rate of childhood obesity (24%, down 2% from the previous year) and a low rate of children without health insurance (2%).
The state also performed better than the nation as a whole on pandemic-specific metrics, including the percentage of families that “sometimes or often” did not have enough food (7% in Massachusetts, compared to 13% nationally) and those that lacked reliable technology for virtual learning (7%, versus 12% nationwide).
Mississippi, ranked 50th overall, ranked 39th in education and last in the remaining three major categories (economic well-being, health, and family and community). Twenty-eight percent of children in the state live in poverty, a 5% improvement from the previous report but still far worse than the national average of 17%. That means 192,000 children in the state are living below the 2019 federal poverty line of $25,750 for a family of four, even as the national child poverty rate dropped five points.
The state also ranked worse than the national average on every pandemic-specific metric, including the percentage of adults without health insurance (15%, versus 11% nationally) and the percentage of families without access to reliable technology for remote learning (25%, more than double the national rate of 12%).
Regionally, the Northeast fared best in the rankings, holding two of the top three spots, while states in Appalachia, the Southeast and the Southwest, where families have the lowest incomes, “populated the bottom of the overall rankings,” the foundation said in a statement. “In fact, except for Alaska, the 17 lowest-ranked states are in these regions.”
Fixing the Disparities
The report recommends a host of policy actions to address the disparities, ranging from broad actions like prioritizing racial and ethnic equity in policymaking to more specific actions, including expanding Medicaid and working to ensure that federal relief funding is funneled to education. In Biden’s plan, $123 billion has been allocated to K-12 schools.
“Many children have experienced the pandemic most acutely as a disruption in education,
and school will be an important way to get kids back on track,” the report said. “State policymakers should prioritize school funding as they rework budgets, taking particular care to address inequities. States can address the lost learning opportunity kids experienced during the pandemic by making sure every child has broadband internet access at home and investing in evidence-based tutoring programs.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.