By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Eight years after the Great Recession, Black children are prospering in some regards and still struggling in others – this, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book, a respected report on child wellbeing issued each year.
Child poverty is still a huge problem. According to the report, 39 percent of Black children live in poverty, more than double the rate of White children (14 percent), and higher than the national average of 29 percent.
“It was the first time, this year, that we saw the child poverty overall go down slightly for all the racial groups. It went down slightly, one tick between 2012 and 2013,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which publishes the report each year. “What didn’t go down is the rate of concentrated poverty. This the highest rate since 1990.”
Speer says that children today are more likely to live in neighborhoods where more than 30 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. The report found that 32 percent of Black children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. In 2013, the poverty line was $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children.
She continued, “This is important because those neighborhoods in general don’t tend to be places where the best schools are located; it’s often harder for parents to get access to high quality early child education, and often times there are not safe places to play in those neighborhoods. And so, it can really impact [children’s] development in the long run.”
The rise in concentrated poverty is attributed to a combination of factors. Wages and benefits have not kept pace with the recovery, leaving parents unable to house and fully support their families on one job with reasonable hours. Factor in rising housing costs across the country, and it is easy to see how families fall into poverty and remain there.
Many parents are unable to maintain or find work at all. In 2013, almost half of all Black children had no parent with full-time employment for the entire year, the report states. The current Black unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, not including those who have stopped looking for work.
Speer put it plainly: “It’s clear that the economic recovery has not filtered down to all families.”
Worse than the poverty rate, though, is the mortality rate for Black children and teens. Far and away, Black children are most likely to be lost in their youth, at a rate of 33 deaths out of 100,000, compared to the national average of 24.
“The casualty death rate for African American teens has been above the national average since we’ve been doing Kids Count, which has been more than 25 years,” Speer said. “The good news is that the rate has declined pretty substantially…even since 2008, when it was 41. So the trend is moving in the right direction, but the rate is still significantly higher than the national average.”
She advised parents in facing difficult and often uncontrollable circumstances to take advantage of resources, such as the income tax credit, and strive to keep consistency in a child’s life wherever possible. She also added that even small things like talking and reading to children can have huge impact.
“Every parent wants the best for their child. It’s always a struggle between trying to keep all the balls up in the air,” Speer said. “For low-income parents, it’s difficult to put all the pieces together and still spend time with children doing things that we know can make a big difference. That’s hard for every parent, but especially if you have multiple jobs.”
The report is not all gloom and doom. Teen births continue to decline and are at their lowest levels ever. The high school graduation is the highest it’s ever been, as is the number of students graduating on time. More children are in preschool today than they were 10 years ago; Black three- and four-year-olds are in preschool at a rate slightly above the national average.
But Black children are still alarmingly behind in math and reading proficiency, with 86 percent of Black eighth graders below math proficiency, and 80 percent of Black fourth graders below reading proficiency, compared to the 66 percent average for both measures. And these are slight improvements since 2007, the official expiration of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Children are also healthier, thanks to government interventions, Speer says. Low-weight births are beginning to decline for all races after a 40-year climb, though this is still a major issue for Black mothers and their babies. The uninsured rate is at 7 percent – 2.2 million more children have become insured since 2008, when the rate was 10 percent. Black children are among the most likely to have health insurance, with an uninsured rate of 6 percent.
The report also ranks each state on overall child wellbeing, and on four wellbeing indicators. New Jersey and Connecticut are the only two states in the top 10 for overall child wellbeing that have significant Black populations. The bottom 10 states are all Southern states (equal parts east and west). Children in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are among the healthiest. Children in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are among the best educated. Kansas ranks among the most economically stable, and Connecticut is among the best in family and community wellbeing.
“It’s important to measure and monitor the wellbeing of kids and families…if we are concerned about our future wellbeing as a society,” Speer said. “If you want to make a difference for kids…you have to think about them in the context of their families and of the communities in which they live. Without doing that, the likelihood of being able to improve outcomes for children is much lower.”