In Arkansas, Black Babies are More Likely to be Born With Low Weights, Jeopardizing Their Well-Being and America’s Future
Arkansas’s children who are Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) fare poorly compared to their peers nationwide, according to Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2024 Race for Results report. These results are in the context of a nationwide failure to equip all children to succeed, with policy choices and lack of support for families resulting in particularly dire outcomes for Black, Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native children.
The early years of a child’s life are critical to their ultimate well-being, starting from birth. A baby’s weight at birth is strongly connected with how likely they are to survive the first year. It can also affect their risk for developmental problems in childhood or certain diseases as adults. While 9.5% of all babies in Arkansas were born with low birth weights in 2021, the low birth weight rate for Black babies in our state was almost 17%.
These birthweight disparities, particularly among Black and Asian and Pacific Islander babies, contribute to inequitable outcomes for too many BIPOC children in Arkansas. But we have options in state policy that can help give all babies a better chance at a healthy future.
For example, rapidly enrolling Arkansans in pregnancy Medicaid, if they are likely to be eligible, is one of those options. Most states have adopted this policy, which ensures pregnant applicants don’t have to wait months to get critically important prenatal care appointments.
The Race for Results index standardizes scores across 12 indicators that represent well-being milestones from cradle to career, converting them into a scale ranging from 0 to 1,000 to make it easy to compare and see differences across states and racial and ethnic groups. Indicators are grouped into four areas: early childhood, education and early work experiences, family resources and neighborhood context. With an overall index score of 299, Arkansas’s Black children have some of the worst outcomes in the nation. Only American Indian or Alaska Native children in Arizona and South Dakota and Black children in Michigan, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Ohio are faring worse.
Nationally, Asian and Pacific Islander children have the highest index score at 771, followed by white children at 697 and children of two or more races at 612. Scores for Latino (452), American Indian or Alaska Native (418) and Black children (386) are considerably lower. Calculations of the index for all 50 states show that experiences vary widely depending on where a child lives, from a high of 877 for Asian and Pacific Islander children in New Jersey to a low of 180 for American Indian or Alaska Native children in South Dakota.
Young people are missing critical developmental milestones as a direct result of choices to fail to invest in policies, programs and services that support children, especially in under-resourced communities and communities of color.
The Casey Foundation introduced the Race for Results index in a 2014 report and updated it in 2017. This third edition of the report carries data from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that demonstrate both the urgency of ensuring all children can thrive and the promise of policy prescriptions for achieving that goal. Race for Results contends that young people are missing critical developmental milestones as a direct result of choices to not invest in policies, programs and services that support children, especially in under-resourced communities and communities of color.
The Casey Foundation makes several recommendations in Race for Results toward improving outcomes for all children:
- Congress should expand the federal child tax credit. The temporary, pandemic-era expansion of the CTC lifted 2.1 million children out of poverty, with the share of kids in poverty falling to 5.2% in 2021, the lowest rate on record.
- States and Congress should expand the earned income tax credit.
- Lawmakers should consider baby bonds and children’s savings accounts — programs that contribute public funds to dedicated accounts to help families save for their children’s future.
- Policymakers must create targeted programs and policies that can close well-being gaps for young people of color, because universal policies are important but insufficient for continued progress.
The 2024 Race for Results report is available at http://www.aecf.org.