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Data is King: Kids Count Data Book Releases 2013 Report

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s seminal annual report—the 2013 Kids Count Data Book—was released yesterday, amassing critical and comprehensive data showing the state of America’s children.

The report—which outlines key indicators of children’s progress in education, health, family and community, and economic well-being—is an important tool for advocates of children to highlight areas where we’ve seen some success, but others where progress is far from apparent.

For the second time, the report captures data on early childhood, noting with distress that among children ages 3 to 5 in California, 73 percent are not in preschool, child care, or Head Start for at least ten hours a week. 

While this figure is likely to decrease in future years due to California’s investment in transitional Kindergarten, which served approximately 39,000 children in the 2012-13 school year, the number is still terribly high.   As I have previously written, these modest investments will hardly make California what it should be—an early learning leader, providing a critical start to a brighter future for our children. 

Sadly, as the report notes, given the persistent poverty and difficulties facing kids, “only a small percentage of poor children participated in [early education] programs of sufficient quality and intensity to overcome the developmental deficits associated with chronic economic hardship and low levels of parental education.”

For this reason, Next Generation has launched a joint campaign with the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation called Too Small to Fail, where we make one thing clear: early interventions that combine personal actions, private sector commitments, and public support represent the surest model for making a difference in the lives of children.  

As part of Too Small to Fail, we will focus on small acts that can have a big impact on the lives of young children, including the small act of parents regularly reading to their young children.  But as the Data Book tells us, only 1 in 5 families read to their young child an average of three days per week here in California (though this is 5 percentage points higher than the national average).

Investing in early learning not only is an economic imperative that saves society over $7 for every dollar invested, but it is a logical step to help vulnerable children succeed later in life.  

 

Additional Data on Kids

Beyond the earliest years, additional data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that California, and the nation, is failing to provide for children as they grow. Just look at a few of the most shocking figures from the report:

  • Over 22 percent of children in California live in poverty – a national trend that we have covered in the past;
  • 7.1 million children still lack continuous health insurance nationally, a figure that tops one million children in California;
  • 1 in 3 of California’s children live in a home headed by a single parent, an increase of 3 percent since 2007, and now mirroring the national figures; The unemployment rate for California parents stands at 10 percent – or over 680,000 parents – which is 2 percent larger than the national rate of unemployed parents; and
  • A full quarter of children in California lived in households that were food insecure in the last year, meaning they had limited access to nutritious food (a rate that is 3 percent higher than the national figure). 

While these figures are troubling, there are some positive findings from the report, such as:

  •  46 percent of 3rd graders in California are proficient or advanced in reading, a 4 percent increase since 2010 and a 9 percent increase since 2007;
  • Only 4 percent of students dropped out of high school in 2011, a 17 percent fall since 2007;   
  • Teen births have fallen by 10 percent since 2007. While still a cause for concern, teen births, both in California and nationally, have been nearly cut in half since 1995; and
  • Births to unmarried women, while still high, has not seen a statistically significant increase since 2008 – a trend that holds for national data as well.

 

California Falls Behind in Rankings Nationally

The totality of yesterday’s report shows us that we must push to be better as a nation and a state. However, California falls near the bottom of every state ranking that the Kids Count report produces, ranking 41st among fifty states (unchanged since 2012) in terms of child well-being. Yet among four other indicators, California is falling behind: 

  • Economic Well-Being:             ↓ 46 (2012: 45)
  • Education:                                  ↑ 39 (2012: 43)
  • Health:                                        ↓ 29 (2012: 23)
  • Family and Community:         −  42 (2012: 42)

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

While there are some bright spots in yesterday’s release, each one is tempered by an unfulfilled promise to make kids’ lives in this country better each year. With record high poverty, persistent parental unemployment, and a crisis in early education, the trends can seem overwhelming.

Our response as a community, a state, and a country must not be made solely of despair, but of an increased sense of urgency to improve children’s lives. 

Help make that change a reality by joining our national Too Small to Fail initiative at www.toosmall.org. With this campaign, we aim to use the newest technology to share scientific research with parents so that they can get the most out of their time with their children; businesses so they can become more flexible to the realities of modern life; and our policymakers so they can make the wisest investments for their constituents.

By joining, you’ll add your voice to a chorus now calling for more action on behalf of children, and help us as we begin to promote the most impactful research-based evidence supporting children.

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