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Report Sheds Light On Poverty, Child Wellbeing In Arkansas

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npr.org
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More than one in five children in Arkansas continue to live in poverty according to analysis based on Census data from the year 2019.

The annual Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey foundation examines data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau measuring several indicators, including economic wellbeing, health and education.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families executive director Rich Huddleston says, while the state has shown improvement, Arkansas still remains near the bottom nationwide.

“For overall child wellbeing, Arkansas is ranked 39th, up from 40th [in 2018]. We rank 41st in health, 35th in education, 34th in economic wellbeing and 42nd in family and community. Since 2010 we’ve improved in 11 out of the 16 indicators,” Huddleston said.

The report shows more than one in five children in the state continue to live in poverty. AACF Race Equity Director for Advocacy Maricella Garcia says Black and brown children in Arkansas are more likely to live in poverty than white children.

“While we’re equivalent with the national levels, Black children in Arkansas are 39%, 27% of Hispanic children are living in poverty in Arkansas, and that’s compared to 16% of their white counterparts,” Garcia said.

Huddleston says the state also continues to lag behind the nation when it comes to early childhood education.

“While Arkansas used to be a national leader in terms of access to quality preschool education for 3- and 4-year-olds, our progress has really stalled due to a decade of nearly flat state funding for pre-K,” Huddleston said.

The study shows more than half of children in Arkansas attended pre-K, which, while slightly worse than the national average, has remained virtually flat since 2011. Arkansas also ranked slightly better in overall child health rankings, moving to 40th in the nation, though that finding is based on data collected before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report also outlines continued disparities in health, education and quality of life between communities of color and White Arkansans. AACF Senior Policy Analyst Bruno Showers says the state’s economic health did see a significant improvement.

“In the economic wellbeing index, we’ve gone up in rank to 34th from 46th [in 2018]. But when you look at the metrics that make that up, most of that improvement is driven by the fact that we have fewer children living in cost-burdened housing, and we improved in terms of the number of teens that aren’t working and aren’t in school,” Showers said.

The report shows Arkansas trending in the wrong direction for health outcomes, with increases in the number of children and teens who are overweight or obese and the number of low birth-weight babies.

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