By the Editorial Board
Every year we anticipate the KIDS COUNT Data Book, which provides thorough, evidence-based information about the lives of children across the country. Every year North Carolina makes a little gain in the report’s rankings — and experiences some significant loss. This year is no different.
The 2015 report, based on research provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “finds North Carolina children and families are losing ground in key measures of financial security, while making moderate gains in several education and health indicators.”
In terms of overall child well-being, North Carolina ranks 35th in the country. Last year, we were 34th. The previous year, we were 35th. This isn’t where we should be.
“In order for our children to thrive and our state to excel now and in the future, North Carolina needs to work on the fundamentals of healthy child development: support strong and stable families, build safe and nurturing communities and promote high-quality schools,” Michelle Hughes, the executive director of NC Child, a children’s advocacy group, said in response to this year’s report.
Some of the particulars in the study are chilling. In North Carolina:
– One in four children lives in poverty.
– One in three children lives in a family where the parents lack secure employment.
– One in three children lives in a family that struggles to afford the cost of housing.
– One in 11 teens (9 percent) is out of school and not working, disconnected from education and employment pathways to success.
This is sobering. It’s not how we see ourselves.
Much of the responsibility for these outcomes lies with the families of these children. But there are other economic factors at work that families can’t control.
When children grow up in neighborhoods that lack access to critical resources like fresh, nutritious food, high-quality schools and safe, walkable spaces for exercise and play, they suffer. Their physical growth as well as their mental and emotional capacity is diminished. This causes problems later in life.
Our state legislature also plays a role. According to the report, “In 2014, the legislature allowed the state Earned Income Tax Credit to expire and voted to limit access to child care assistance for school-age children, which will take more than 6,000 children out of child care by October 2015.”
Our legislature must understand that with their power comes responsibility. They can make a difference in the lives of our children — if they want. We’re all for efficient government and low taxes, but the state’s poorest children should not have to pay for their initiatives.
But we can all help. North Carolina is blessed with organizations like the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, as well as local initiatives, that help provide necessities for children. Churches and other community organizations do their part.
We can all do a little more — and we must.