The 2016 National KIDS COUNT Data Book: Is Kentucky Top Dog or Rock-bottom?

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This week, we co-released with the Annie E. Casey Foundation the national 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book. We get pretty excited about this release because the Data Book provides the best assessment of how Kentucky’s children and youth are faring in comparison to those across the nation. Let’s face it, we live in a very competitive state – think basketball and horse racing – so we eagerly await the Data Book to see if Kentucky can claim top dog status on any of its measures of child well-being.

This year’s national Data Book marks the first time Kentucky can claim top 10 status (a good thing) on three different measures of well-being while simultaneously ranking in the bottom 10 (a bad thing) on three other measures.

Let’s start with the good news and look at our top 10 rankings:

  • Kentucky now ranks 10th in the nation for children lacking health insurance. Thanks, in part, to Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion that took effect in January 2014, as well as past efforts to get eligible children enrolled in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP), our rate of uninsured children is down to a record-low four percent.
  • Kentucky now ranks 9th in the nation on fourth grade reading proficiency – a dramatic jump up from 24th place in last year’s Data Book. Of course, this achievement shouldn’t overshadow the fact that we still have 60 percent of fourth graders not reading at a proficient level based on national standards.
  • Kentucky shares a first place ranking with three other states for teens ages 12-17 who abuse alcohol or drugs. This sounds like a real accomplishment, especially in light of the current drug crisis, but Kentucky’s low rate of 4 percent doesn’t jive with what our middle school and high school students report on a different survey. So, this may not be something to crow about after all.

And then there’s the bottom 10 rankings:

  • Kentucky continues to have one of the worst rates in the nation for teen births – we’re now ranked 43rd. However, the state’s teen birth rate did fall by 34 percent from 2008 to 2014.
  • Kentucky now ranks 41st in the nation on child poverty. Last year’s Data Book showed Kentucky’s child poverty rate had slightly decreased for the first time since 2008, but that dip was short-lived. Our child poverty rate went back up, to 26 percent, and once again we must say that MORE than one in every four Kentucky children lives in poverty.
  • Kentucky’s worst ranking this year is our 47th rank for the percent of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. Thirty-five percent of Kentucky children now have parents who are either unemployed or underemployed. Even the best-ranked state has one in every five children in such a situation – perhaps the best refutation to the notion that America has bounced back from the Great Recession.

For more information on how Kentucky’s children and youth are faring, read the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book or Kentucky’s State Data Profile Sheet, and visit the KIDS COUNT Data Center for hundreds more indicators of well-being. Also, stay tuned next week for executive director Terry Brooks’ blog post on the “so what?” and the “what now?”

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