The Annie E. Casey Foundation published the first KIDS COUNT Data Book in 1990 to provide a comprehensive picture of American children and their families that was comparable across states. With the release of the 30th edition last month, we’re looking back to see how Kentucky’s current youth are faring compared to those in 1990 (approximately one generation ago). Reviewing a variety of key indicators of child well-being we see areas where Kentucky has made solid improvements, at least one area where we’ve moved in the wrong direction, and others where the data hasn’t moved much one way or another.
Making solid improvements
One success story is the increasing percentage of children with health coverage. Kentucky has seen its rate of children without health insurance drop – from 14% in 1989-1991 to just 4% in 2015-2017 – due to policy changes at both the state and federal level. Kentucky simplified the enrollment process and increased outreach to children eligible for the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program. The expansion of the Medicaid program also helped more Kentucky kids gain coverage, as children are more likely to be enrolled when their parents have coverage.
Today’s teenagers are better prepared to transition into adulthood than a generation ago. There are fewer “disconnected” teens ages 16-19 – those who are neither attending school nor working – with a decrease from 14% in 1990 to 8% in 2017. There are also fewer students dropping out of school and more high school students graduating within four years. In fact, Kentucky has a record high on-time graduation rate, with 90% of students graduating within four years of starting high school. But the most-improved indicator for Kentucky’s adolescents is the teen birth rate, which fell steeply from 67 per 1,000 females ages 15-19 down to 29 per 1,000.
Moving in the wrong direction
One area in which Kentucky’s data has worsened is the percentage of babies born at a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds). The rate of low-weight births increased from 7.1% in 1990 to 8.8% in 2017. This is troubling news, as babies born with a low birth weight have a high probability of experiencing developmental problems and short- and long-term disabilities and are at greater risk of dying within the first year of life.
Smoking during pregnancy is the single most important known cause of low birth-weight and increases the risk of preterm birth and Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome. Though Kentucky’s rate of mothers smoking during pregnancy has gradually fallen, it remains more than twice the size of the national rate.