MCALLEN, RGV – Based on this year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, Texas is ranked 43rd in the U.S. on the overall well-being of children.
Every year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks each state on the overall well-being of children based on 16 different indicators. Four of these key indicators are economic well-being, education, health as well as family and community. Below is the Texas ranking for each key indicator:
Economic Well-Being: Rank 35
Education: Rank 32
Health: Rank 41
Family and Community: Rank 47
According to Kristie Tingle, research analyst for the Center or Public Policy Priorities, Texas has been ranked in the top 10 worst states for the well-being of children for the past two years.
“Some of the challenges are things that have been here for a long time. And some of them are things that we’re seeing improvements in, but maybe things aren’t improving in Texas as fast as they are in other states,” Tingle said.
“One thing we can see in the data book is that the child health insurance rates in Texas have improved. We’ve seen a lot of improvement since 2010 largely due to the passage of the Affordable Care Act which increased kids’ access to their healthcare.”
One of the indicators of the well-being of children is education. On the state level, Texas is struggling with helping its children in reading and math. According to the data, 71 percent of 4th graders are below proficient in reading levels and 67 percent of 8th graders scored below proficient in math.
Another indicator is poverty and according to the data book, 22 percent of Texas children are living in poverty. The poverty level is an annual income of $24,500 for a family of four. The 2016 child poverty rate in Cameron county was 41.5 percent and Hidalgo county was at 42.2 percent.
While county level statistics show a gap compared to the overall state percentage, the counties showed improvement compared to the 2010 child poverty rate. Cameron county was at about 50 percent and Hidalgo was at approximately 45 percent.
For health insurance, 14 percent of Texas children were uninsured in 2010. Now, only nine percent are uninsured. On a county level, there are currently 16 percent of uninsured children in Cameron county and 13 percent of uninsured children in Hidalgo county. This shows another significant gap on the county level compared to state statistics.
“I think that having a statewide picture of how kids in Texas are doing is important because there are plenty of policies at the state level that impact kids like the school finance system and other types of educational opportunities,” Tingle said.
“But at the same time, there is county level data that is separately important because there are lots of things that officials at the local level can do to have an impact within their own communities.”
In the coming years, Tingle wants to see Texas improving at least at the rate that other states are seeing improvement in their child well-being, if not faster. She believes that while federal level policies contribute to these indicators, there are things that can be done at the state level.
“There are opportunities to make choices that put kids first at all levels of government. If our elected leaders, especially heading into the 2019 legislative session, really think about what needs to be done to ensure a strong future for kids in Texas then asking those question leads to policies that are going to improve some of these outcomes,” Tingle said.
“If we decided as a state that the reading and math proficiency levels were just not acceptable as a state, then we can allocate more resources or put in more policies that might help. At that point I think we would take a step in the right direction.”
The KIDS COUNT Data Book is already working on their 2020 census. However, they are highlighting the possibility of a severe undercount. With the recent news on the separation of families, this also poses a threat to not getting an accurate count for the census.
“There was a lot of news that came out surrounding the addition of the citizenship question being added to the 2020 census. Advocates are rightly concerned that the addition of that question will deter some people from filling out the census because they might be afraid their answer to that question will be used against them in some fashion,” Tingle said.
“The census bureau is not supposed to share that information, but that fear is understandable. What we need is a census that is going to accurately count Texans. I think that fear surrounding that question is certainly not getting better and are very likely to be exacerbated by the situation at the border.”
Other reasons for undercounting include families living in geographic locations that are traditionally considered hard-to-count such as neighborhoods with housing units that are divided oddly or having two families living under one roof.
“It’s important that everyone living in Texas is counted because everyone has the right to be counted and to be represented. The census count determines where billions of federal dollars go. If there’s an undercount of young children in Texas then that state isn’t going to get its fair share of resources. If there’s an undercount then we risk things like not having our fair share of representation but we also risk having the burden of making up those holes in federal dollars being placed in communities,” Tingle said.
“From another angle the census is critically important for things like this data book. Without the core work of the census bureau putting together a data profile of how kids are doing like this then that means it would be very difficult to see if there are any improvements in well-being or it would be hard to see if policies are working so we really need accurate data so we can keep track of this. It really just provides the foundation of what our state is going to look like.”