Washington state does OK by its children, but is that good enough? I don’t think so.
We ranked 18th nationally in a report released Tuesday on the well-being of children in the 50 states, but we can do better than that. The ranking comes from the Kids Count Data Book, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Washington ranked 27th in economic well-being, 20th in education, ninth in health and 17th in the family and community category.
I looked on the national list for other states I’ve lived in and saw they didn’t do so well. California ranked 40th, Texas 43rd and New Mexico 49th. I’m glad I live in Washington now, but I also know those states face larger challenges than we do, so our being in 18th place isn’t something to gloat about. Iowa is No. 3, Minnesota is fifth and New Jersey is eighth. We can do better, maybe even better than No. 1 Massachusetts, or second-place Vermont.
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How would the Seahawks feel about coming in 18th this season?
I’m especially concerned that our lowest ranking is in economic well-being because all of the other areas are strongly affected by economics. Washington is home to Amazon and Microsoft, Boeing plants and a strong agricultural sector, and yet we rank 27.
Economic success is not spread equally across the population. The national report is based partly on individual state reports gathered earlier in the year.
In Washington, Kids Count is a partnership of the Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center. Its report showed significant opportunity gaps among ethnic and racial groups. I wrote about that report in April and now I want to look more at the areas in which all of our children have fared either better or worse in the past few years. We’ve gotten worse on three of the five measures used to judge economic well-being.
According to the study, as of 2012, 19 percent of the state’s children lived in poverty, 31 percent had parents who lacked secure employment, and 39 percent lived in households in which housing was classified a high-cost burden. All worse than previous recent measurements.
The fourth category, teens not in school and not working, was unchanged since 2008. About 8 percent of teens were in that category in 2012.
The economic divisions that plague the nation are a factor here, too. That’s difficult to address, but Washington has made progress in its efforts to combat the effects of economic distress on other areas of life for children.
The study shows improvement for the state in all of the education data it collects.
More children in Washington state are attending preschool, and the governor and Legislature are committed to further expanding access to high-quality preschool programs.
Seattle is pursuing its own efforts to provide more children a good foundation for education and life through early-education programs.
Kids Count compared test scores from 2013 and 2005 and found a higher percentage of fourth-graders proficient in reading and a higher percentage of eighth-graders proficient in math than before, but still a majority of students fall short.
More high-school students are graduating on time, but too many still drop out. Getting better is the good news that should encourage more effort.
Washington fared best in comparison with other states in the health of its children. The death rate for children has been dropping and the percentage of teens who abuse alcohol and drugs, 7 percent, is lower than it was in 2005-06. The latter bears watching now that alcohol is more widely available and recreational marijuana is legal for adult parents.
Also more children are covered by health insurance than just a few years ago, and the percentage of low-birth-weight babies is stable.
In the family and community category, the 2012 data showed more children, 30 percent, in single-parent families, and more living in high-poverty areas. Fewer children were in families in which the head of the household lacked a high-school diploma, and teen births have declined.
This is a great state with a reputation for innovation and leadership and we need all of our kids at their best to keep that going. When you vote, when you volunteer, when you set your workplace values, keep the kids in mind.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org