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Revamped KIDS COUNT Data Book Shows Improving Health, Declining Economic Security for Children in North Carolina

(RALEIGH, NC)- If the new analysis released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation is any indication, previous investments in the health and education of children in North Carolina have generated dividends, returns which now stand in jeopardy due to recent state budget cuts and eroding family economic security.

The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book offers a sophisticated view of child well-being, swapping the report’s standard 10 indicator analysis for an index of 16 indicators grouped into four domains: Health, Economic Well-Being, Education, and Family and Community. The report shows North Carolina lands in the middle of the pack in Health (26) and Education (25), but lags behind in Economic Well-Being (35) and Family and Community (36).

North Carolina ranks 34th out of 50 states in overall child well-being.

“The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows mixed progress for children in North Carolina,” said Deborah Bryan, President and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina, a statewide child policy, research, and advocacy organization and home of the NC KIDS COUNT project. “Although changes in the Data Book prevent us from comparing this rank to previous years, the trend within many indicators, particularly those of economic well-being, show North Carolina children are losing important ground.”

Economic indicators, like the share of children living in poverty or whose parents lack full-time employment, are bellwethers, signaling looming challenges that upset other areas of child well-being long before their effects are captured in the data. The report finds children in North Carolina have been hard-hit in both areas, with the percent  of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year round employment jumping 25 percent, from 28 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2010. One in every four children in North Carolina (25 percent) now lives in poverty.

Declining family economic security risks important health and education progress for North Carolina children. The report finds the number of children without health insurance declined 20 percent since the start of the recession. As children and families in North Carolina have lost access to employer-sponsored health insurance, either due to unemployment or declining employer participation, children’s access to health coverage has been bolstered by Medicaid and NC Health Choice, the state children’s health insurance program.  Over 1 million children in North Carolina, more than four in every ten children in the state, receive access to health insurance through these programs.

In education, an area that has been called North Carolina’s brand, the state breaks into the top 20 best performing states, ranking 20th in two indicators: fourth grade reading proficiency and eighth graders proficient in math.

“For more than two decades, North Carolina made intentional, sustained investments in programs that help improve the health and education of our children,” said Bryan. “Examples include the NC Healthy Start Foundation, which supports better birth outcomes and saves the state money through lower healthcare costs, and pre-k programs, which help narrow reading and math achievement gaps and increase the state’s graduation rate.”

“Many of these investments,” Bryan continued, “have been eliminated or severely cut during the past two legislative sessions.”

The 2012 Data Book comes on the heels of a short legislative session that left children in North Carolina worse for the wear. After overriding a budget veto by Governor Perdue, the General Assembly enacted a budget that eliminated all state funding to the NC Healthy Start Foundation, made deep cuts to education, and scaled back critical prevention programming.

“Without a change in course from our elected leaders and recommitment to preserving the future health and prosperity of our state–our children,” said Bryan, “we can expect to see the damaging effects of these budget choices appear in future versions of the Data Book. North Carolina can, and must, do better for our children.”

Other highlights from the 2012 Data Book include:

  • The number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods more than doubled over the past decade, increasing from 76,000 in 2000 to 212,000 during the current data year. One in 11 children in North Carolina now lives in high-poverty communities.
  • One in seven children in North Carolina (14 percent) lives in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma, down slightly from 16 percent in 2005. Parental education has been shown to affect children’s chances of graduating from high school, as well as their future labor market and health outcomes.

The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book with state-by-state rankings and supplemental data will be available at 12:01 a.m. EDT, July 25, 2012 at http://datacenter.kidscount.org.

To preview an embargoed copy of the 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book, visit: http://www.aecf.org/newsroom/databook2012.aspx.

Follow the Annie E. Casey Foundation on this issue on Twitter @aeckidscount and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/KIDSCOUNT.

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