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OPINION: State Shows Uptick Of Concern On Kids Health, Death Rates

by Maylon Rice | June 30, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Once again, that eternal challenge to improve the lives of Arkansas children took a hit, even during these recent covid times.

The annual Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a 50-state report on household data is troubling.

Arkansas, due to its poor nature of agrarian culture, lack of educational resources and overall low wages, has always been near the bottom of such statistical surveys.

Yes, there were some improvements this year, as well, but still, Arkansas, as a state, lags behind in what many Arkansans deem a resource -- our children and their future.

The only improvement worth mentioning is that Arkansas rose from the 40th lowest ranking state to 39th this year in the study.

The number of Arkansas' children going without health insurance surged dramatically between 2018 and 2019, continuing a troubling decline in children's healthcare coverage. Arkansas has also seen an increase in the percentage of low-birth-weight babies and in the child and teen death rate over the past decade.

So that is the headlines from the 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a report of recent household data analyzing how families have fared between the Great Recession and the covid-19 crisis.

I know we can all agree, every child needs food, healthcare, safe and stable housing, and access to education.

But this year's Data Book shows nearly a decade of progress could be erased by the covid-19 pandemic unless policymakers act boldly to sustain the beginnings of a recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Many states in the South and West that rank toward the bottom in the Data Book also are states that have seen the worst outcomes during the pandemic.

Arkansas is included in this assessment, with bottom 10 rankings in six of the 16 well-being indicators. Arkansas' overall ranking did rise to 39, compared to last year's ranking of 40.

In Arkansas, for example, 39% of our Black children and 27% of our Hispanic children live in poverty. By comparison, 16% of Arkansas' non-Hispanic, white children live in poverty.

The study shows 16 indicators, measuring over four domains, economic well-being, education, health, and family and community context, are used in each year's Data Book to assess child well-being. The annual data and rankings represent the most recent information available but do not capture the impact of the past year.

Giving you the short version, here is where the state is:

ECONOMIC WELL-BEING (Arkansas ranked 34th): In 2019, 151,000 (22%) of Arkansas' children lived in households with an income below the poverty line. While the state has improved on this measure since 2010, more than one in five children in Arkansas continue to live in poverty, ranking us near the bottom of the states at 46th.

EDUCATION (Arkansas ranked 35th): In 2017-19, 41,000 children ages 3-4 were not in school. Though there were several years where this indicator showed improvement, Arkansas has lost ground over the last decade. In 2009-11, 49% of young kids were in school, and Arkansas was ranked 16th in the nation; in 2019, only 47% of young children were in school, and Arkansas dropped to 20th in the national ranking.

HEALTH (Arkansas ranked 41st): The number of children in Arkansas without health insurance rose from 34,000 in 2018 to 43,000 in 2019, marking the third straight year of an increase in this figure. This mirrors a national increase in children without health insurance, though it has been especially noteworthy in Arkansas where our national ranking dropped from 23rd in 2010 to 29th in 2019.

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY CONTEXT (Arkansas ranked 42nd): In 2019, 67,000 children (10%) lived in high poverty areas, an improvement from 17% in 2010. Arkansas has also seen a decrease in the percentage of kids in families with a head-of-household who lacks a high school diploma (11% in 2019, down from 16% in 2010)."

We can do better. We must do better. Don't you agree?

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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