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Arizona's Children and the State of the State
For our country to thrive, we need for our children to be healthy and to receive the support they need to grow and eventually contribute to society. To accomplish this, it is important to know how kids are currently doing, where things are improving and where more work is needed. Towards this end, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 30th edition of the Kids Count Data Book which examines child well-being using both national and state data on four domains: economic well-being, education, health, family and community. The report ranks Arizona 46th overall for child well-being. Looking at the various domains and specific indicators in the report, Arizona has improved in many areas; yet challenges remain. For the sake of brevity, this summary will address the critical areas of economic well-being and health found in the report.
Nationally, 21 percent of children live in poverty with wide variation between states. The Kids Count Data Book ranks Arizona 43rd in the nation for economic well-being with one in four children living in poverty (1 per cent increase between 2010 and 2015). Two positive economic indicators, both nationally and for Arizona, were reductions in the number of children likely to grow up in families burdened by high housing costs and the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment. Between 2010 and 2015, Arizona saw a 9 percentage point reduction on the first indicator - 43 percent in 2010 to 34 percent in 2015 - and a 5 percentage point reduction on the second indicator - from 35 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2015. The same trends were observed nationwide.
One area of concern that has been ongoing is economic disparities related to race and parental employment. The report states that nationwide, 47 percent of American Indian and 45 percent of African American children are likely to not have at least one parent who has full-time, year-round work, compared to 23 percent of white and 21 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander children. These statistics are important for Arizona as we are ranked 3rd in the country for largest Native American population with 296,529 Native American residents. These disparities are also reflected in the child welfare system where both African American and Native American children are overrepresented. Nationally, thirty-three percent of children in the child welfare system are African American although they represent only fifteen percent of the child population. Native American children represent 2.1 percent of children in the child welfare system although they represent only .9 percent of the child population.
Economic indicators intersect with all areas of well-being for children. For example, in the domain of education, the report finds that children growing up in low-income families, when compared to their wealthier peers, are less likely to attend pre-school and are more likely to not be proficient in fourth grade reading scores. In addition, the readiness gap between children in poverty and their wealthier peers grows as they get older, with 30 percent of children raised in poverty not graduating from high school.
Regarding children’s health, the report concluded that nationally, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), combined with the expansion of Medicaid in many states, reduced the number of children without health insurance from 8 percent to 5 percent. In 2013, then Governor Jan Brewer led Arizona in approving Medicaid expansion such that Arizona exactly mirrors the national statistics. This reflects a 36-49% improvement in health coverage for children as reported over five years. An additional benefit attributed to the ACA is the reduction in teen births nationally from 34 per 1,000 in 2010, to 19 per 1,000 in 2017. Similarly, in Arizona, teen births decreased from 42 per 1,000 in 2010 to 26 per 1,000 in 2015, only slightly higher than the national average of 22 per 1,000.
These statistics, and others included in the Kids Count Data Book, provide insight into how children are doing in our state and nationally. They are important because as William Paul Thurston once said, “Mathematics is not about numbers…it is about understanding”. Statistics are important for this reason; they inform us about what is happening in the world around us and lead to a more fulsome understanding. Policymakers, researchers, and decision-makers can use these statistics in their efforts to create more effective policies to address the needs of children and families in our state and country. At the end of the day, when our children do better, our future is brighter.