A new report released yesterday found that Texas is still one of the worst states in the U.S. to be a kid. The KIDS COUNT Data Book, a collection of data on child well-being put together by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has ranked Texas within the bottom 10 states for overall child well-being.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Texas 43rd in the nation for overall child well-being. That's essentially the same spot Texas has been for the past two years (in 2012, it was 44th, and in 2013 it was 42nd). This means child welfare in Texas has only seen minimal improvement over the past two years, and still has a long way to go.
The report did find some slight short-term improvements in some areas of child welfare in Texas, “including more high school students graduating on time, lower teen birth rates, and greater access to health insurance.” Nonetheless, Texas is still struggling to provide the resources to meet children's needs.
Most troublingly, the report found that over 1.7 million, or 26%, of Texan children are living in poverty. That is more than 1 in 4 children in Texas who are growing up impoverished.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation report found that more Texas children are living in poverty now compared to 2005. Additionally, there are more children whose parents do not have a secure job, at 30% of parents. That means Texas as a state ranks 32nd in child economic well-being.
The education system is also failing Texas children. 59% of Texas children are currently not attending preschool, and 72% of fourth-graders are not proficient at reading. That puts Texas' education rank at 32nd, solidly in the lower half of the country.
Texas children are less healthy too–we rank 40th in child health. 12% of children are uninsured, and 8.3% of babies are born with low birthweight.
The area where Texas ranked worst was the “Family and Community” category, where we placed 47th. Despite a lower teen birth rate and “a smaller percentage of children living in families in which no parent has a high school diploma,” 19% of Texas children are living in high-poverty areas. That's part of a broader problem of an increasing number of Texans living in neighborhoods with high levels of poverty. A Census report found earlier this year that 1 in 3 Texans live in poverty areas, “defined as census tracts where at least one in five residents are below the poverty line.”
Growing up in poverty has serious consequences for children. Their educational outcomes suffer, because they're more likely to live in “extremely poor neighborhoods characterized by social disorganization and few resources for child development.” They also are at risk for health problems, from infant mortality to asthma and injuries from abuse/neglect to lifelong cognitive development impairments due to poor nutrition.
Texas' growing child poverty rate is most likely to affect young African-American and Latino children, who make up the majority of Texas children. It is vital for the state to provide them with opportunities for education and growth, or else risk becoming a state with a less-educated, less-competitive workforce.
“It's time for Texas to step up its game when it comes to prioritizing our children,” said Frances Deviney, Texas KIDS COUNT director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “With so many other states seeing improvements in child well-being, it's clear that this is doable, we just need to commit to our kids' future once and for all.”
The Center for Public Policy Priorities recommends several steps to improve the lives of Texas children:
Texas can act now by fully investing in prekindergarten for our tiniest Texans, raising the minimum wage for hardworking parents, and expanding health care for the working poor, many of whom have children. Research has consistently shown that when parents have health coverage, their kids do as well.
“With one of every 11 U.S. kids living in Texas, the cost of not prioritizing our kids is detrimental not only to our state, but our country as a whole,” said Deviney. “Texas has much ground to cover to ensure all kids can do well.”