Arkansas losing ground in several national child well-being rankings

Child advocates concerned about pandemic’s impact

The 31st Kids Count® Data Book, the most comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the United States, is available to ensure continuity of access to data for policymakers and advocates.

The number of Arkansas children living in poverty increased by 15,000 children from 2017 to 2018, according to data released today in the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT® Data Book. Arkansas’s economic well-being rank also dropped significantly from 36th to 46th in national rankings. The state’s overall ranking of childhood well-being in this year’s report remained the same as last year’s, at 40th.

The 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book, as always, is based on the latest available data for 16 key indicators. For the 2020 report, those data are from 2018, so they do not reflect current conditions amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

The Casey Foundation is preparing to release a special report in December focused on data from the pandemic period, but is releasing the annual Data Book as usual to ensure that legislators and other elected officials, policymakers, researchers and advocates for children have the information they are customarily able to access at this time of year. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families will participate in the special data release in December.

“The Foundation deeply appreciates everyone who has put kids first during the pandemic — from parents, teachers and counselors who have cared for children and helped them navigate online learning to social workers and service providers who have kept agencies and programs running and extended compassion to youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. “Working to keep kids healthy and safe has never been more essential.”

“Arkansas’s families were already falling behind even before the pandemic created a host of new obstacles to meeting even basic needs,” said Rich Huddleston, AACF’s executive director. “This is an urgent reminder that temporary policy measures adopted to ease that burden – like lifting strict time limits or work reporting requirements for state-issued benefits – should be made permanent.”

The 2020 Data Book shows improvement nationally on 11 indicators in the KIDS COUNT Index; three indicators stayed the same and two worsened. A brief explanation of Arkansas’s rankings can be found below.

Arkansas’s rankings

Compared to last year’s report, Arkansas’s children are losing ground in the economic well-being and health domains. Arkansas’s overall economic well-being ranking fell, as mentioned above, from 36th to 46th, with more children living in poverty, more children whose parents lack secure employment, more children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and more teens not in school and not working.

Arkansas’s overall health ranking fell for the second year in a row, from 37th to 40th, with more low birth-weight babies and more children going without health insurance than the previous year. A new indicator has been introduced this year: percent of teens 10-17 who are overweight or obese. Arkansas ranks 24th, with 30 percent of our teens overweight or obese.

Arkansas rose a place in the education domain, from 32nd in last year’s report to 31st this year. The only indicator that improved between 2017 and 2018 was the percentage of eight-graders not proficient in math, an indicator in which we rank 43rd, with 73 percent. It is likely that our overall education ranking improved as a result of other states’ worsening outcomes. Notably, Arkansas is no longer in the top 15 states for children attending pre-K.

The state’s rank of 45 on the family and community domain is the same as last year. More children are living in families where the head of household has at least a high school diploma. Fewer of Arkansas’s children lived in high-poverty areas (census tracts with poverty rates of 30 percent or higher) in 2018. Although the number of teen births per 1,000 has improved for Arkansas, the state still ranks last on this important indicator. Thirty-nine percent of Arkansas’s children are living in single-parent families, an increase over 2017.

Racial disparities

Children of color continue to suffer worse outcomes than White children across most indicators, at both the national and state levels. Barriers to economic progress, in policy and society, such as redlining, the G.I. Bill, the pervasive effects of slavery and Jim Crow-era laws, and the mass incarceration of Black men have led to wide – and widening – disparities. In Arkansas, for example, 45 percent of our Black children (a significant increase over 36 percent in 2017) and 33 percent of our Hispanic children (up from 32 percent in 2017) live in poverty. By comparison, 17 percent of Arkansas’s non-Hispanic White children live in poverty, with no change since 2017.

Counting all kids

The KIDS COUNT Data Book shows how essential accurate data are to sound policymaking. In Arkansas, 22 percent of children under 5 are at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census, especially those in low-income families, those living in rural areas, and those who are immigrants and children of color. The 2010 Census missed 2.2 million such kids, and the upcoming count may miss even more, if children are not a priority. The stakes are high: 55 major federal programs, including Head Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, allocate more than $880 billion to states each year based on census data; Arkansas receives close to $10 billion a year in federal funding for these important programs.

Policies can make a difference

Arkansas Advocates and our partners are beginning the process of developing our legislative agendas for the 2021 General Assembly. Our policy experts will continue examining the data to help create policy recommendations to help every child in Arkansas realize their full potential.

The 2020 KIDS COUNT® Data Book is the 31st edition of an annual data study based on U.S. Census and other publicly available data, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It may be accessed at aecf.org. Additional information is available at aecf.org/databook. Tools to create maps and graphs illustrating the data may be found at the KIDS COUNT Data Center (datacenter.kidscount.org).

About Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is a statewide, nonprofit child advocacy organization established in 1977. Our mission is to ensure that all children and their families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives and to realize their full potential. For more information, visit aradvocates.org

About the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.