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2024 Kids Count report finds Arkansas kids face worsening outcomes

Arkansas ranks 45th overall in the nation in a report examining economic well-being, education, health, and family and community data across the U.S.
LA Johnson
Arkansas ranks 45th overall in the nation in a report examining economic well-being, education, health, and family and community data across the U.S.

An annual report says outcomes for Arkansas kids are worsening in several key areas.

The 2024 Kids Count Data report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released Monday, looks at how children and families fare across four areas in each state: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Arkansas Advocates For Children and Families collects data for the Kids Count report on behalf of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The nonprofit also pushes for data-driven policies to improve outcomes for Arkansas families. AACF Executive Director Keesa Smith highlighted the report’s findings at a press call last Thursday.

“We’re not making the level of investment needed to pull children out of poverty, we’re not making the level of investment for children to get the education that they need and deserve and for our families to live healthy lives.” Smith said.

Most of the report’s new data is from 2022 and is compared with data gathered in pre-pandemic 2019. Arkansas ranks 45th overall in the report, with scores in the areas of economic well-being, education, and health all worsening from 2019 to 2022.


Arkansas ranks 47th in health indicators, with two out of three indicators worsening.

Camille Richoux is the Health Policy Director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She said one of the indicators–the percentage of babies born with with a low birth rate–improved from 2021 to 2022, but still remains higher than the rate in 2019 and higher than the national rate.

The child and teen death rate in Arkansas also increased. In 2019, 25 kids out of every 100,000 died. That number rose to 44 out of every 100,000 in 2022, a 26% increase.

Richoux said the major cause of deaths for kids under 18 are violence-related, including accidental injuries. Firearm deaths make up a large part of these types of deaths, according to Richoux.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families recommends the state launch an investigation into the high rate of childhood deaths and find solutions to improve Arkansas kids’ safety.

“We have even more work to do than what this year's data shows,” Richoux said, “We still have serious issues with child un-insurance.”

Richoux noted the current data doesn’t reflect recent losses in child Medicaid. Pandemic-era Medicaid rules expired last year, making individuals who previously qualified for the care ineligible. Arkansas chose to unenroll newly-ineligible individuals from medicaid over a course of six months rather than the year-long period allowed.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families found many of the individuals impacted by Arkansas’ hastened disenrollment period were low-income children.

“We need to work on outreach on children’s insurance and make sure that all eligible kids in our state have coverage.” Richoux said.

Economic Well-Being

Pete Gess, the nonprofit's economic policy coordinator, says two major economic indicators have worsened since before the pandemic.

“The first is the percent of children in households that spend more than 30% of income on housing,” Gess said. “That actually increased from 22 percent of children to 25 percent of children. There was a big swing in our ranking.”

Arkansas also ranked 50th in the nation for the percentage of teens age 16-19 neither in school nor working in 2022. The number rose from 7% in 2019 to 11% in 2022.

Speaking about possible solutions to the problems revealed by this data, Gess said a statewide child tax credit of $1,000 per child would be enough to lift many Arkansas kids out of poverty.

“In fact, we could cut childhood poverty in half in the state of Arkansas simply if we had spent less than what we have given away in tax cuts over the past decade.”

Gess said those tax cuts, which have gone mostly to wealthy individuals, could be used instead to support low-income families with children.


Arkansas also saw lower score results in education. Olivia Gardner is the Education Policy Director at AACF. She said Arkansas needs a state investment in early childhood education.

The report found 57% of children between the ages of 3 and 4 aren’t enrolled in pre-k. That’s an increase from the 50% seen in 2019.

“Pre-K is a great way to have children ready for kindergarten, especially low income children,” Gardner said. “The long term benefits are vast for academic achievement and social development.”

Gardner also highlighted proficiency scores for core subjects have decreased.

“We’re seeing 70% of fourth graders not scoring on reading level and then 81% of 8th graders scoring below proficient in math,” Gardner said.

These scores are important because they’re traditional indicators of long term academic success, according to the Casey Foundation’s report.

Gardner says the drop is likely from pandemic-era learning losses that have had a lasting impact on Arkansas students.

“Some of the recommendations that we’re seeing to get kids back on track is making sure that they’re classroom ready by ensuring universal access to low or no-cost meals, reliable internet connections, out-of-school programs, which are a proven way for kids to study and spend time with friends in safe environments, and again state investment in early-childhood education.” Gardner said.

According to the report, Arkansas ranks 36th overall in education outcomes in the nation.

Family and Community

Arkansas ranks 45th in the Family and Community indicators.

Arkansas has the second-highest teen birth rate in the nation, falling just behind Mississippi which ranks 50th. The report finds in 2022, the teen birth rate was 25 per 1000 girls aged 15-19 in Arkansas, 64% higher than the national average and five times higher than New Hampshire, which had the lowest teen birth rate at just 5 out of 1000 girls giving birth as a teen.

Laura Kellams is the Northwest Arkansas Director for AACF. She said this indicator is important because parents who have kids at a young age are more likely to live in poverty.

“If we want to improve our child poverty rate in Arkansas and improve opportunities for all young people–which of course we do–we really need to concentrate on lowering that teen birth rate.” Kellams said.

Kellams said young people who are able to delay parenthood until they’re ready are much more likely to pursue educational opportunities and get better-paying, stable jobs.

Lowering the teen birth rate would also improve women’s health overall in Arkansas. The state has one of the highest maternal mortality and infant mortality rates in the nation. Kellams says those rates are much higher for teen moms than for the overall population.

Arkansas ranked 45th overall in the report. The full 2024 Kids Count report and recommendations from the Annie E. Casey Foundation can be found at aecf.org

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.