Black-and-white photo of a youth peering through a window behind hanging clothing.

Weekend Long Reads: Are the Kids AlL right?

by Kevin Schofield

This weekend’s “long read” is the 2021 Kids Count Data Book, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Kids Count project tracks indicators of children’s well-being over time and looks at which are trending better or worse.

The 2021 Data Book includes information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies through 2019 and compares it with 2010 figures (get used to seeing a lot of 2019 data for a while — 2020 wasn’t a good year for collecting data). 

Nationally, there has been a lot of good news over the past decade. The number of children in poverty dropped from 22% in 2010 to 17% in 2019. Those living in households with a high housing cost burden is now at 30% — not a good number, but down from 41%. Only 6% of children are without health insurance (down from 8%), and the number of teen births has halved, to 17 per 1,000 (from 34). The education numbers aren’t pretty, and for the most part are unchanged: 66% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 67% of eighth graders are not proficient in math.

Table depicting 16 key indicators of child well-being by domain across the United States.
Table depicting 16 key indicators of child well-being by domain across the United States. Table sourced from the 2021 Kids Count Data Book.

The Data Book also has some supplemental data on the percentage of family households that reported specific concerns during the pandemic, such as not having access to a computer and the Internet for education, having enough to eat, or inability to pay rent.

The report notes that there are large and “stubbornly persistent” racial disparities hidden within the aggregate numbers.  For example, 31% of African American children, and 30% of Native American children live in poverty, compared to only 10% of white children; similarly, 23% of African American children live in high-poverty areas, compared to only 3% of white children.

Table depicting key indicators by race and hispanic origin.
Table depicting key indicators by race and Hispanic origin. Table sourced from 2021 Kids Count Data Book.

The Data Book compares and ranks the states on these measures of children’s well-being, and its online supplement breaks out the figures for each state. Washington ranks 14 overall. Our state does best on health measures, coming in at 5; here, only 3% of children are without health insurance. But we do worst on education, ranking 27: 65% of our fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 60% of our eighth graders are not proficient in math. Most of Washington’s scores are trending the same or better; the one notable exception is the percentage of children aged 10 to 17 who are obese: That jumped from 25% in 2010 to 30% in 2019.

The online supplement also has additional information on the current impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on households with children.

The report makes three key policy recommendations on how states can improve their children’s well-being: make the federal ARPA Act’s expansion of the federal child tax credit permanent; strengthen state and local policies such as Medicare expansion an extending unemployment insurance to gig workers; and prioritizing racial and ethnic equity in policymaking, including equitable distribution of relief funds.

2021 Kids Count Data Book

Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and publishes Seattle Paper Trail. Previously he worked for Microsoft, published Seattle City Council Insight, co-hosted the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast, and raised two daughters as a single dad. He serves on the Board of Directors of Woodland Park Zoo, where he also volunteers.

📸 Featured image attributed to Wayne S. Grazio (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license).

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