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Arkansas 40th In Latest Kids Count Report; Economic Well-Being Up Eight Spots

Sarah Whites-Koditschek

Arkansas’ overall ranking improved from 41st to 40th in the latest annual Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Data Book. Its economic well-being ranking improved from 44th to 36th, but its health ranking fell from 30th to 37th after it experienced its first decline in children covered by health insurance since 2010.

First published in 1990, the study ranks states across 16 indicators, four each in four domains: economic well-being, health, education, and family and community. This year’s study reflects 2017 statistics. The Foundation’s state partner is Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF).

Arkansas was 40th overall, just ahead of Texas at 41st and Oklahoma at 42nd. The top three states in order were New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa. The bottom three were Mississippi at 48th followed by Louisiana and New Mexico. Among Arkansas’ other neighbors, Missouri was 28th and Tennessee was 36th.

Nationally, 11 of the 16 indicators showed improvements. All four economic well-being indicators have improved nationally since 2010.

Meanwhile, the growth of Arkansas’ child population since 1990 has been almost entirely due to an increase in Hispanic children. Arkansas also had one of the nation’s highest increases in its percentage of children in immigrant families.

The state’s economic well-being ranking improved from 44th to 36th.

Nine thousand fewer Arkansas children were living in poverty in 2017 compared to 2016. The percentage has fallen from 28% to 22% since 2010. In 2017, it was 18% nationwide. In Arkansas, 156,000 children are living in poverty. The federal poverty level in 2017 was $24,858 for a two-adult, two-child family.

Twenty-eight percent of Arkansas children have parents who lack secure employment, an improvement compared to the 36% who did so in 2010. The national average is 27%. More than one in four children nationally, or 20.1 million, in 2017 lived in homes where no parent worked 35 hours per week for at least 50 weeks in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Arkansas fared better than the rest of the nation in the percentage of children living in households with high housing costs. According to AACF, the state is 14th in the number of children in households spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Here, it’s 24%, compared to a national average of 31% in 2017. In 2010, 32% of Arkansas children lived in households with high housing costs.

Eight percent of Arkansas teens were not in school and not working in 2017, compared to 7% nationwide.

In health, Arkansas’ ranking fell from 30th to 37th. Since 2010, the state has reduced the number of children without health insurance from 7% to 4%. In 2017, the number increased slightly to 33,000, the first increase since 2010.

Arkansas’ rate is better than the national average, which fell from 8% to 5%. The percentage of children without health insurance nationally has fallen 62% since 1990.

Meanwhile, the number of child and teen deaths per 100,000 in Arkansas increased from 34 in 2010 to 37 in 2017. A total of 278 Arkansas children and teens died in 2017.

The percentage of low-birthweight babies in Arkansas increased from 8.8% in 2010 to 9.3% in 2017. The national average was 8.3%.

The percentage of teens who abuse alcohol and drugs held steady at 4% in Arkansas in 2016-17 compared to 2015-16. Nationally, it was also 4%.

The state ranked 32nd in education, a slight improvement over last year, when it was 33rd.

It bettered the national average in the percentage of high school students not graduating on time: 12% in Arkansas compared to 15% nationally. Arkansas ranked 12th nationally, said AACF’s Dr. Ginny Blankenship in a press call prior to the report’s release. Moreover, the state has improved significantly in this area since 2010, when 19% failed to graduate on time. The national average has fallen from 21% to 15% over that time period.

Arkansas ranked higher than the national average in the number of children attending pre-K programs from 2015-17 with 49%, compared to a national rate of 48%. Those numbers have not changed since 2009-11.

But in two key academic indicators, the state trailed the national average. It was 39th in the percentage of fourth-grade public school students not proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That percentage fell from 71% in 2009 to 69% in 2017, but the national average was 65%. Massachusetts was the only state where more than 50% were proficient in reading.

Meanwhile, the state’s percentage of eighth-graders not proficient in math increased from 73% in 2009 to 75% in 2017. The national average was 67% both years.

The state ranked 45th in family and community. AACF’s Laura Kellams said this is the only domain where Arkansas is ranked in the 40s, so the state would be in the 30s if it scored better here. She noted that Arkansas has improved in all four indicators but is not improving as fast as other states.

While the state’s teen birth rate for ages 15-19 is declining, it has had the nation’s highest rate six of the past eight years. Its number of teen births per 1,000 decreased from 52 in 2010 to 33 in 2017. In Arkansas, 3,178 teens gave birth in 2017.

Arkansas’ percentage was much higher than the national average, which fell from 34 in 2010 to 19 in 2017. In fact, the teen birth rate nationally has fallen 68% since 1990, when it was 60 per 1,000, and is the lowest it has been since the study began. However, it is still the highest among affluent countries.

Arkansas ranked 36th in the percentage of children living in single-parent families in 2017. Thirty-seven percent of Arkansas children, or 243,000, lived in those households, which was an improvement over the 39% who did so in 2010. Nationally, the percentage remained at 34%.

The percentage of Arkansas children living in areas where the poverty rate was at least 30% fell from 17% in 2008-12 to 14% in 2013-17. Nationally, it was 12%.

The percentage of Arkansas children in families where the household head does not have a high school diploma fell from 16% in 2010 to 13% in 2017. Nationally, the percentage was also 13%.

The study found the number of children in Arkansas increased by 85,000 from 1990 to 2017. That increase was fueled almost entirely by Hispanic children, whose numbers increased by almost 80,000. Hispanic children now comprise 12% of the state’s population; they were 1% in 1990.

That change mirrors what’s happening nationally. The study said the percentage of white American children fell from 69% in 1990 to 53% in 2017. The percentage of children who are Latino has increased from 12% in 1990 to 25% in 2017. In California and New Mexico, the majority of children are Latino, and they soon will be in Texas. The study said a majority of children nationwide will be nonwhite by 2020. Eighteen million children are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The study emphasized the need to obtain an accurate count in the 2020 census, saying that the 2010 census failed to count more than 2 million children younger than age 5, many of them minorities or members of low-income families. More than $880 billion is allocated annually based on census data. AACF’s Executive Director Rich Huddleston said 22% of Arkansas children under age 5 live in hard-to-count areas.

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics.